Ji-Eun Lee

Associate Professor of Korean Language and Literature
Head of the Korean Section​
Comparative Literature (Affiliate)
Performing Arts Department (Affiliate)
(on leave FL23-SP24)
PhD, Harvard University
research interests:
  • Construction of gender in modern and contemporary Korean literature and film
  • Domesticity and travels by Colonial Korean woman writers
  • Print culture and readership in the 19th and 20th centuries
  • Memory and ethics in post-Cold War Korean literature
  • Translation
  • Digital humanities
    View All People

    contact info:

    mailing address:

    • Washington University
    • MSC 1111-107-115
    • One Brookings Drive
    • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
    image of book cover

    Professor Lee's research and teaching focus on Korean literature and civilization. She is working on two writing projects: a book-length study on memory and space in post-Cold War Korean literature; and domesticity and travels by Colonial Korean woman writers.

    As a scholar of Korean literature with a comparative background, Ji-Eun Lee’s overall research interest covers from the nineteenth century to contemporary times, with topics including women and gender, print culture and book history, memory and post-memory, and travel and domesticity. She uses literary, cinematic, visual, and journalistic materials, and engages both historical approaches and close readings of primary sources to examine production of textual and visual arts in Korea, and to reexamine them in a transnational context.

    Professor Lee’s book Women Pre-scripted: Forging Modern Roles through Korean Print (University of Hawai’i Press, 2015) offers an in-depth analysis of conflicting discourses on modern woman as Korea went through transformations driven both by domestic and outside forces. She examines how “woman,” as an ambivalent symbol of both progress and backwardness, was constructed and remolded according to changing ideals and challenges of modernity during one of the most turbulent times in Korean history. That study, her first inquiry into a relationship among gender, print media, colonialism, and modernity, now motivates a more focused exploration of domesticity, the first of two main research projects she is pursuing now. In that early-twentieth century era of massive migration and uprooting, how was “home” understood among Korean women? How did it variously manifest as geographical specificity, as physical structure, and as attachments to hometown and homeland in the context of changing circumstances within and outside Korea? In the future she plans to apply resources and techniques in digital humanities, including digital cartography, to this research.

    Her other main project uses theories of memory and post-memory as lenses for studying more recent South Korean literature. Focusing on works from after the end of South Korea’s authoritarian regimes in 1987 and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, this project examines the disappearance of master narratives in the late 20th and early 21st century in works by Ch’oe Yun (b.1953) and other major authors. It also explores the reappearance of history in recent years (in Human Acts by Han Kang, for example), but this time as embodied memory rather than as indicative fact or as objective chronology of cause and consequence.

    In conjunction with these two research trajectories, Professor Lee also promotes translation of Korean literature into English, both as editor of an Anthology of Korean hansi (poetry in Classical Chinese), a Korean literature anthology, and as translator, including short stories, poetry, and most recently the award-winning Korean novel I Met Loh Kiwan by Haejin Cho (University of Hawai’i Press, 2019).

    Selected Publications

    Courses Taught

    • L51 223C Korean Civilization
    • L51 352 Literature of Modern and Contemporary Korea
    • L51 355 Topics in Korean Literature & Culture: Constructing Gender
    • L51 437 Contemporary Korean I: Topics in Korean Literature and Culture
    • L51 455 Topics in Korean Literature and Culture
    I Met Loh Kiwan

    I Met Loh Kiwan

    Ji-Eun Lee's translation of Cho Haejin's short novel I Met Loh Kiwan follows North Korean refugee Loh Kiwan to a place where he doesn’t speak the language or understand the customs. His story of hardship and determination is gradually revealed in flashbacks by the narrator, Kim, a writer for a South Korean TV show, who learned about Loh from a news report. She traces his progress from North Korea to Brussels to London as he struggles to make his way and find a home in an unfamiliar world.

    Women Pre-Scripted: Forging Modern Roles through Korean Print

    Women Pre-Scripted: Forging Modern Roles through Korean Print

    Women Pre-Scripted explores the way ideas about women and their social roles changed during Korea's transformation into a modern society. Drawing on a wide range of materials published in periodicals—ideological debates, cartoons, literary works, cover illustrations, letters and confessions–the author shows how at different times between 1896 and 1934, the idea of modern womanhood transforms from virgin savior to mother of the nation to manager of modern family life and, finally, to an embodiment of the capitalist West, fully armed with sexuality and glamour.
    Each chapter examines representative periodicals to explore how their content on a range of women's issues helped formulate and prescribe women's roles, defining what would later become appropriate knowledge for women in the new modern context. Lee shows how in various ways this prescribing was gendered, how it would sometimes promote the “modern” and at other times critique it. She offers a close look at primary sources not previously introduced in English, exploring the subject and genre of each work, the script used, and the way it categorized or defined a given women's issue. By identifying and dissecting the various agendas and agents behind the scenes, she is able to shed light on the complex and changing relationship between domesticity, gender, and modernity during Korea's transition to a modern state and its colonial occupation.