“Here There Be Dragons,” the map said. Hmmmm….
I can just picture in my mind the early maps mentioned by Kristin Luker in her piece “Salsa Dancing.” Early maps used by ancient mariners, Luker said, contained areas around the edges labeled “Here There Be Dragons.” No doubt these areas were uncharted territory. Places no one had ever been.
In my personal research voyage, I’ve embarked and set my sail for the land of the dragons. Uncharted waters are my assignment. I must face the dragons. But as Luker suggests, I can do it while dancing. I can learn to “survive the process of doing high-quality salsa-dancing research in the shadow of uncertainty.” (4) So, I will put the wind behind my back, break through the waves and push towards the edge.
So what kind of research am I embarking on?
Well to start off, my research interests lie half way around the world in the relatively small country of South Korea. South Korea occupies the southern end of the Korean peninsula which is directly west of Japan and south of the part of China traditionally known as Manchuria. It is a part of East Asia and shares a history intertwined with China and Japan and interestingly enough, its language group includes a large swath of languages spoken across the northern Asian plain from Turkey to Mongolia.
So how did a girl from a farm in Floyd County Virginia become interested in South Korea? Well to condense a long story, (yes I will truly condense it), my oldest children introduced me to East Asia when they learned the Japanese language in college, then continued their studies in Chinese and Thai as they spent time in Thailand, China and Taiwan as well as Japan. The country missing in this mix just happened to be Korea, so to even out our East Asian skills, I suppose, I chose to learn Korean. Before this, I also worked on a project for a friend whose father was stationed in Korea during the Korean War.
As an undergraduate, I looked at the work of Southern Presbyterian women missionaries to East Asia, so looking at their work more intently in Korea seemed a good direction to go especially in light of the unique development of Christianity in Korea as compared with other East Asian countries. As far as Christianity and East Asia is concerned, Korea (as the unified country before division along the 38th parallel) is an anomaly. At the turn of the twentieth century, many Protestant missionaries converged on East Asian countries in their quest to take the gospel around the world. At the time, Christianity only made significant inroads in Korea. There are a few theories already circulating in historical circles as to why this was true. One of the components though that I believe is missing in assessing this phenomenon is the role women played, American missionary women, as well as Korean women known as Bible Women. Of course this is a preliminary idea, but I look forward to what I will find out as I delve into the time period interactions between American female missionaries and the women they trained.
This blog will serve as a platform for working through those discoveries and as such will definitely show a work in progress. Morphs and transformations will surely occur and what I start out with may not look very much like what I end up with, that, however, is the essence of “learning.”
Advice Along the Way
Thankfully, we are not set afloat without some guidance and navigational direction. There are many talented historians on staff here at Virginia Tech and I had the privilege to speak with three of them concerning my research interests.
I first spoke with Dr. Helen Schneider. Dr. Schneider also studies the role of American women missionaries in East Asia. Her main country of research, however, is not Korea but China. She pulled many books off her shelf to share with me in establishing a historiography, an overall history of the area and the role of women in the “gospel of domesticity.” She also just recently published in a book called Divine Domesticities: Christian Paradoxes in Asia and the Pacific, which is a compilation of scholarly articles on the role of women in Christian enterprises in Asia and the Pacific region. Articles written by scholars working in Korea were included in this compendium. The footnotes in those articles were especially enlightening. Dr. Schneider has already given me good advice on direction and amazingly enough, I’ve been able to share a little with her of what I am finding because our areas are so close.
Next I spoke with Dr. Brett Shadle. Dr. Shadle works with colonial interactions in Africa and as such, is familiar with using mission archives and the stories, letters, diaries, etc. produced by missionaries and mission societies, as missionaries were an important dynamic in colonialism. Dr. Shadle was particularly encouraging. I expressed my concerns of embarking on studies that involved another country, another language and great distances. He told me he was about at the same place as I am when he started, so…Yay! It can be done! It gives me hope and encouragement in sailing towards the dragons.
Lastly I spoke with Dr. Peter Schmitthenner in the Department of Religion and Culture. Dr. Schmitthenner is very familiar with the work of missionaries as both his parents and grandparents were missionaries in India. He spent most of his childhood in India. At times, in his historical work on India, he also uses mission archives. He also suggested a list serve connected to H-Net called H-Asia which will give scholars a daily digest of notices concerning publications of works on Asia. He also is going to share some books with me has currently on Illiad after he finishes with them.
Also, while not exactly advice, we were given another “tool” to put in our toolbox this week as we embark. We were all asked to read a past student’s paper whose work had been singled out as exceptional. I choose to read Kimberly Staub’s work entitled “Recipes for Citizenship: Women, Cookbooks, and Citizenship.” I ultimately chose to read this one because of its emphasis on the gendered language found in World War II cookbooks and government publications involving rationing and its look at the prescribed roles for women.
I found the work especially illuminating for the above reasons; however, there are other reasons for its exceptional nature. What I noticed, beyond good quality writing, was the easy to follow organization, which also proved to be very effective. The historiography was also thorough and well explained. She also did an effective job of searching out other cultural trends or movements that might bear on the interpretation of events, or in this case, the content of the cookbooks. I especially appreciated the section on local cookbooks as it gave us a glimpse of how local women were interpreting the events around them.
Taming Dragons, Salsa Dancing…or Both?
As I go forward on my voyage, I can’t help but feel intimidated and a little bit fearful, but at the same time excited. There are things to learn. There are things to discover. There are places to go. There are things to write. There are dragons… Oh no, not really. But an image does come to mind of it somehow being a process in which one happily dances on the ship as the dragons slowly ebb back in the water.