2021-3 / Volume 58 / ISSN 2384-230X


Nam Heesook, New Director of the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History

On May 7th, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism appointed Nam Heesook, former Chief of Collection Management Division as new Director of the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History. Dr. Nam received her Ph.D degree from the Department of Korean History at Seoul National University, and has been in charge of Research Division, Research & Planning Division, Collection Management Division, etc. at the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History.

Q: Could you say a few words about being appointed as the new director of the Museum?

As a historian, I feel delighted to gain recognition for my work at the Museum. Next year(2022) marks the 10th anniversary of the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History, and I also feel an enormous responsibility at a time when the Museum is at such a critical juncture and moving onto the next level.

Q: What values do you believe the Museum should uphold down the road?

The National Museum of Korean Contemporary History is a historical and cultural place where we all share historical experience and memories of the people who took part in the birth and growth of the Republic of Korea and feel empathy with them. Empathy is ensured first and foremost by objectivity. The history of the Republic of Korea is characterized not only by dazzling progress but also by dark and painful incidents. Thus, the Museum should aim to present objective facts and unbiased interpretations, foster mutual understanding and a sense of coexistence. That way, we can help the citizens to let go of conflicts and wounds of the past and learn to live in harmony and concord.

Also, the Museum has to bring diverse historical views that underpin democratic society closer to world history. The contemporary history of Korea has invariably evolved within the global struggle for power, and we must always have that context in mind. When we hold an exhibition on a specific theme or topic, we will need to present it side by side with similar cases in world history and locate our historical experience within the broader context of global history, so that the audience can develop a plural, multi-faceted perspective on history.

Q: Could you share your thoughts on the top priorities as director?

Above all, I am thinking of renovating facilities both in and outside the museum in order to make the time visitors spend in our institution more comfortable and enjoyable. I am also seeking to launch more future-oriented projects where we can find a solution to pressing social issues of our times. For instance, questions regarding life and the co-existence of human and nature after the Covid-19 outbreak have gripped us recently and the desire to build a safe community is growing as a result. It will be meaningful if we organize an exhibition on the theme of plagues in history, helping people learn about how epidemics and pandemics changed society and draw lessons from history about how to prepare ourselves now.

Besides, as the Covid-19 pandemic has rendered most of our daily life contactless, we are planning to keep pace with these changes by offering quality contents online and holding exhibitions using new technologies. As part of the effort, the Museum is refurbishing a section of the exhibition hall on the 3rd floor and creating a ‘Media Hall’ equipped with cutting-edge exhibition methods. In addition, we are going to actively engage in the Age of Light project carried out by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and Korea Creative Content Agency, and turn the Museum into a ‘Media Art Space.’

I am asking all our precious readers and visitors to take continued interest in our Museum and feel free to offer feedback and suggestions about anything at any time. Thank you.


The Day Korea Became More Colorful

Korea began the mass production of color TV sets in 1974. Anam Industries, a local enterprise, set up Korea National Co. in partnership with Matsushita Electric Co. of Japan (currently Panasonic Corporation), and began producing CT-201 model. Later, Samsung Electronics Co. and Goldstar Co.(currently LG Electronics Co.) each began producing and exporting color TV sets on their own, and their combined export volume grew to 500,000 units in 1978.

Color TV sets were among the major exports of Korea
in the 1970s and the 1980s. ©Yonhap

That is, Korea actually began producing and exporting color TV sets in the mid-1970s, and major broadcasting stations in the country were also capable of transmitting color images. Concerned about manifesting the gap between the rich and the poor and lack of electricity, however, President Park Chung-hee and major news companies were against the sale of color TV sets as well as the introduction of the system in the country.

A turning point came in 1980 when the economy rapidly shrank in the aftermath of the second oil shock followed by import bans imposed by the US and European countries. The government allowed the sale of color TV sets on August 1 that year and TV stations began ‘color broadcasting’ on December 1. Color television sets sold like hot cakes, and the shift from the black-and-white world to all-color images came as a pure shock for Korean citizens. Some even dubbed the amazement as ‘Color Revolution.’

The distribution and export of color TV sets invigorated the industry, and businesses began to employ a variety of colors in their marketing materials and advertisements to better convey their messages. As the knowledge of colors quickly made its way into daily life, people got used to visual culture and media and actively embraced them. The so-called ‘Color Revolution’ thus ushered in a new world wholly different from the days of the ‘black-and-white TV.’

Citizens watching a ‘multivision,’ a super-large screen made up of 36 TV sets(26’’) in 1986. ©Yonhap


Past Calendars as a Mirror of Old Days

Calendars serve many purposes in daily life, least of all telling us what day and date it is today. In fact, the collection of historical calendars at National Museum of Korean Contemporary History, made in the 1950s and the 1960s, tell us much more interesting stories of people in this period.

The oldest calendar among the collection is a calendar of the year 1950. What draws attention first is the calendar year of 4283, the number you get when counting the years from the legendary foundation of Korea(2333 BC), i.e. the Dan-gi years. On the top left reads a word “construction” coupled with an image of a growing factory, high-rise buildings, and cogwheels. The picture at the center, portraying a man drawing a picture in the middle of a bright and vast field, represents a hope for a better future.

The calendar of year 1953 was printed during the Korean War, and interestingly bore the images of Taeguk-gi(The national flag of Korea), the U.S. flag, and the UN flag. The phrase written in Chinese characters on the sides, “Long Live the Unification of the Republic of Korea(大韓民國 統一萬歲),” indicates the aspiration for a unified Korea. Just like the previous calendar, it presents both the Dan-gi and the Gregorian calendar year, with the Japanese Taisho and Showa calendar years also written on the side. This suggests that the legacy of the Japanese colonial rule still lingered in day-to-day life 7 years after the country was liberated from Japan.

With its use of colors and facial expressions of figures in the pictures, the image on the calendar of January 1962 provides a stark contrast between life in the Free World and that in the Communist bloc. The description below clearly indicates that the calendar meant to show the advantage of the US weapons over the Soviet counterparts, leaving its users with the impression of the strength and the positiveness of the Free World.

Lastly, the 1968 calendar represents the “family planning” initiative undertaken by the Park Chung-hee Administration. You can see an illustration of a mother and her two children, with a phrase “Give birth to a proper number of children and raise them well.” on the side. In 1968, the second phase of the Family Planning scheme(1967-1971) was under way, and the Ministry of Health and Society encouraged the use of a variety of contraceptive measures, including the so-called “loop,” an intrauterine device(IUD) to prevent pregnancy.

It all goes to show that a calendar is a product of a given era, and reflects the politics, economy, and culture of the time. Apart from the purpose of its creators, however, the calendar itself must have been an indispensable and delightful item for its users for greeting a new year. We sincerely hope that next year in 2022, all of our calendars will be filled with long-awaited gatherings and travel, and above all, bid farewell to the Covid-19.


Cultural Performance Review

The National Museum of Korean Contemporary History is holding cultural performances regularly on the last Wednesday of every month, while hosting special art performances celebrating historically memorable days. We also offer live broadcasting and highlight video footage of the events at our official channel on YouTube, allowing citizens who were not able to join at the scene can also watch and enjoy the show.

Zambinai Concert (June 30)

Gugak(Korean Traditional Music)-based post-rock Band Zambinai staged its performance on the themes of the determination of the national independence force, the condolences to the victims in Korean modern history, and cheer for all ordinary people and their everyday life. The performance on a summer evening healed many broken hearts and revived the hope that the wounds of the past would someday come back as happiness.

Singing Tour around the Country with Father and Son Kim (July 14)

On July 14, Singers Kim Jeong-ho(Father) and Kim Tae-wook(Son) took the stage to play major local folk songs of each Korean regions on the acoustic guitar. Their performance took the audience on a musical tour around the country and provided comfort to people exhausted by the drawn-out Covid-19 pandemic that has been keeping most of us from travel.

Click the link below to watch the highlights of the performances.

National Meseum of Korean Contemporary History Newsletter 2021-3, Vol.58
198 Sejong-daero, Jongro-gu, Seoul, 03141, Republic of Korea / 82-2-3703-9200 / www.much.go.kr
Editor: PARK Sookhee, KOOK Sungha, HONG Yeonju, KIM Hyewon / Design: plus81studios

Copyright. National Museum of Korean Contemporary History all rights reserved.