Intellectual History and Computing: Modeling and Simulating the World of the Korean Yangban

Javier Cha (, Seoul National University, Korea, Republic of (South Korea)

This poster presentation demonstrates the use of computational methods to discover hidden collectives and communities from Korean historical data. The overarching question is derived from the intellectual history of early modern Korea, which was defined by the coalescence of several schools of Neo-Confucian thought and literary movements. Such developments took place at a time of increasing localization of population, material resources, state institutions, and culture. In the existing body of research, the connections between the material and ideational aspects of the yangban aristocracy have been unclear, owing in large part to the undue attention given to a small number of famous personalities, source materials, and locations. Can this skewed picture be redrawn from the bottom-up, through a more balanced and fuller use empirical data? Fortunately for social scientifically-minded historians of Korea, the government of South Korea has aggressively funded the digitization of cultural heritage. Access to this “big data” has allowed me to embark on a critique of existing reified generalities with large-scale data analysis. This kind of data also demands a new type of research concerning social, cultural, and historical entities which may not yet have been identified and therefore not yet been given a label. The data are drawn from two sources: (1) 50,000 civil service examination degree holders and their extended kin and (2) 198 million Sinitic characters of writing extracted from 1200 collected works. The pilot run has already revealed a surprising assemblage of
yangban aristocrats interconnected via complex ties of patronage and marriage. As the method gets refined, and more data gets added and cleaned, I expect to discover other hidden entities and groupings. Finally, I will explain the theoretical and philosophical implications of historical entity discovery through computing by engaging with the works of social scientists and philosophers such as Gilles Deleuze, Manuel DeLanda, Norbert Elias, Zhuangzi, and Su Shi.

In addition to sharing this digital project’s historical and philosophical contributions to East Asian Studies, I will share my experience with the uses of software tools to address key issues in early modern Korean history. Computational history entails the processing of digitized or born-digital sources using software packages and algorithms designed for use in another discipline or industry. Moreover, historians of East Asia may need to consider the support for Unicode encoding or rare Sinitic characters. I will explain the strategies I developed to collate genealogical data and scrape a large amount of text with the aid of a macro program. Thereafter, I will discuss my adaptation of Cytoscape, a network visualization platform designed for bioinformatics, to analyze the robust ties of marriage that contributed to the self-perpetuation and regional division of the early modern Korean
yangban aristocrats. A highlight of this demonstration will be my linking of multiple data sources and the subsequent extraction of a subnetwork (~300 nodes) from a large network (~20,000 nodes). The marriage networks and subnetworks will be compared against the patterns of localization discovered through spatial data and text analysis. The presentation will consist of large-format prints as well as digital media shown on a monitor or a projection screen (which I will bring with me).

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