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Modern Korean History: Liberation, War and Nuclear Ambitions

Explore the unique and untold history of North and South Korea - from 1945 to the present - with this free online course.

8,186 enrolled on this course

Korean history - the Korean capital city at night
  • Duration

    6 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours

The contemporary history of the Korean peninsula has been a tumultuous tale of decolonization, war and rapid economic development. Both North and South Korea has had an immense impact on the world stage and today many wonder why this region of East Asia appears so frequently in the international news.

This free online course, from Yonsei University in Seoul, will explore the modern history of Korea from 1945 to the present. The historical journey will wind its way through a catastrophic civil war, economic collapse, and the rapid rise of two model states within the Cold War framework. We will examine how two rival nations emerged from the ashes of the war and ask such question as:

● How did North Korea create a model socialist state and build a controversial nuclear program despite its economic collapse?

● And how did South Korea achieve rapid economic development, despite decades of military rule and a long struggle for democracy?

The course will take us all the way down to the present day to explore the complexity of North-South relations and the fascinating details behind the rise of K-Pop and rapid demographic change in South Korea.

The educator for this course is Michael Kim, who is a professor of Modern Korean history at Yonsei University’s Graduate School of International Studies. Michael Kim was educated in the United States but has had a long professional career at Korea’s top private university. His unique qualifications will provide you with an insider and outsider’s perspective on modern Korea.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds Korea is often called the land of morning calm. This image of timeless serenity reflects the mistranslation of the word Choson, which was the name of the royal dynasty founded in 1392 that ruled Korea for over 500 years. Two Chinese characters formed the word “cho,” or morning, and “son,” which means freshness but can also mean brilliant or clear. Koreans observed that just as Japan is always to the east, Korea is always east of China. When the Chinese looked east, they saw the sun rise from that direction, and they called Korea the land of clear morning light. Traditional Koreans firmly believed the brilliance of their cultural achievements. The modern history of Korea, however, is a tragic tale of colonisation, division, and war.

Skip to 0 minutes and 57 seconds I’m Michael Kim, a modern Korean historian at Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea. My course will focus on the Korean history from 1945 to the present. Out of the ashes of the Korean War that broke out in June 1950 emerged two rival nations with their own burning desire to enter the world stage. The North created a model socialist state under Kim Il-sung that collapsed economically after the fall of the Soviet Union. The North’s economic struggles, however, did not prevent it from developing a controversial nuclear programme that shocked the world. South Korea had one of the lowest GDPs in the world 1950s, yet achieved rapid economic development. But not without a troubled history of military rule and protracted struggle for democracy.

Skip to 1 minute and 42 seconds My course will allow us to examine the reasons why the light of Korea once again shines upon the world stage. And we will discuss the complex politics and the fascinating story behind the modern transformation of this prominent East Asian nation.

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

Who is the course for?

This course is aimed at anyone with an interest in East Asian and World History. No prior qualifications or familiarity with Korea or the Korean language are necessary.

Who will you learn with?

Professor of Korean History at the Graduate School of International Studies, Associate Dean of Underwood International College, Yonsei University; A.B. Dartmouth College, Ph.D. Harvard University

Who developed the course?

Yonsei University

Yonsei University was established in 1885 and is the oldest private university in Korea.

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