Hyeok Hweon Kang

Assistant Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures
(on leave FL22)
PhD, Harvard University
research interests:
  • early modern Korea and East Asia
  • history of science and technology
  • material culture
  • global history
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    • Washington University
    • MSC 1111-107-115
    • One Brookings Drive
    • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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    Professor Kang works and teaches on early modern Korea and East Asia, with a focus on the history of science and technology, material culture, and global history.

    His current book project, The Artisanal Heart: Craft and Experimentalism in Early Modern Korea, recasts the history of early modern science from the perspective of artisans and practitioners in Chosŏn Korea (1392–1910). It argues that from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, craftspeople in the military factories of Seoul developed a hands-on, experimental approach to investigating the material world. Their experimentalism originated from the shopfloor—the artisanal practice of “prototyping.” But as it passed on from the army workshops to poetry associations and literati studios, it spread across society, prompting the rise of new practitioners who emphasized a bodily, experiential approach to knowledge. The book reconstructs for the first time this Korean artisanal science and expands our understanding of experiment and empiricism in the early modern world.

    His previous work on the subject includes Crafting Knowledge: Artisan, Officer, and the Culture of Making in Chosŏn Korea, 1392–1910 (PhD Dissertation, Harvard University), for which he was the laurate of the 2021 Turriano Prize  and the 2021 International Convention of Asia Scholars Book Prize.

    Kang is also working on two digital humanities initiatives: a new search platform featuring exploratory data analyses for Korean court annals and a biographical database of Chosŏn artisans.

    His research interests encompass global history and the history of ritual and music as well. He has published on the Military Revolution, a debate about Western ascendancy in world history. A chapter he wrote on the Korean New Year celebration has also just come out in the Routledge Handbook of Asian Music.

    Born in South Korea and raised in China and Guatemala, he received his B.A. in History and Music from Emory University and his Ph.D. in History and East Asian Languages from Harvard University. Before joining the WashU faculty in 2021, he was a D. Kim Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of the History of Science and Technology, Johns Hopkins University.

    Selected Publications

    Peer-Reviewed Articles

    "Cooking Niter, Prototyping Nature: Saltpeter and Artisanal Experiment in Seventeenth-Century Korea," Isis: A Journal of the History of Science Society (in press).

    "Reverse Engineering as History and Method: The Portuguese Espingarda in Chosŏn Korea," History and Technology (under review).

    "With Tonio Andrade and Kirtsen Cooper, “A Korean Military Revolution? Parallel Military Innovations in East Asia and Europe," Journal of World History 25.1 (March 2014): 51­–84.

    "Big Heads and Buddhist Demons: The Korean Musketry Revolution and the Northern Expeditions of 1654 and 1658," Journal of Chinese Military History 2.2 (December 2013): 127–189. (One of Brill’s 15 most downloaded articles in History for Q1 2014 and winner of World History Association/Phi Alpha Theta Paper Prize in 2012.)

    Book Chapters

    "Difference in an Age of Parity: A Comparative Study of Small Arms in Europe and East Asia," in The Military Revolution and Revolutions in Military Affairs, ed. Mark C. Fissel (Berlin: De Gruyter, forthcoming).

    "Nature of Narye: Sound, Spectacle, and the Politics of Performance in Fifteenth-Century Korea, 1392–1592," in Routledge Handbook of Asian Music: Cultural Intersections, ed. Tong Soon Lee (London: Routledge, 2021), 150–173.

    Book Reviews

    "In Pursuit of Truth and Justice: Legal History of Chosŏn Korea and the State of the Field," Seoul Journal of Korean Studies 29.1 (June 2016): 219–227.

    Courses Taught

    • L81 3900 EALC Seminar: Kitchen, Studio, Factory: Making in East Asia