skip to content

Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

FAMES Room 10 (the old Common Room)
Zoom [Registration link below]
Event date: 
Monday, 24 October, 2022 - 17:00


Cotton, Capital, and Colonialism in Southern Korea, 1910-1945

This talk explores colonial efforts to expand cotton cultivation in Korea in order to examine the transformation of the rural economy under Japanese rule. In contrast to previous studies that have emphasized the opposing class identities of landlords and tenant farmers, a focus on cotton cultivation reveals the institutional structures that linked rural Korea to global markets, Japanese textile manufacturers, and new commercial incentives. In particular, I focus on the introduction of semi-governmental organizations as a method of government intervention in agricultural production. In colonial Korea, semi-governmental cotton cultivation associations (K. myŏnjak chohap; J. mensaku kumiai) distributed seeds, fertilizers, and credit to farmers; oversaw the cultivation of cotton through field inspections and visits from agricultural technicians; and managed the sale and distribution of the cotton crop, setting prices and mediating between buyers and sellers of cotton. Rather than being driven by the interests of landlords, closer analysis of the cotton associations highlights the interplay between commercial agriculture, colonial policy, and the organizations that structured cotton cultivation at the local level. 

Holly Stephens received her Ph.D. in History from the University of Pennsylvania in 2017. As a historian of Korea and Japan, her research interests range widely to include economic history, agriculture, empire, everyday life, village organizations, and the emergence of the modern state. Her current monograph project—Empire by Association: The Re-Organization of the Rural Economy in Modern Korea—examines the changes to Korean agriculture from the late nineteenth century through the colonial period amidst immense political upheaval. Using previously unexamined farmers’ diaries, the project traces the formation and operation of new agricultural organizations that linked Korean farmers to regional and global markets, as new ideas about the state’s role in the economy and the adoption of scientific farming methods combined to transform agricultural production.