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Korean documents in U.S. to make digital return

Korea University’s research institute to digitalize 2,200 rare Korean documents held at UC Berkeley


More than 2,000 old documents taken from Korea to the U.S. during the Japanese colonial period will return home in digital form.

Korea University’s Research Institute of Korean Studies announced Thursday that its Center for Rare Materials Abroad finished digitalizing 738 of the 2,200 old Korean documents in the C.V. Starr East Asian Library at the University of California, Berkeley. The rest will be digitalized by the end of this year.

Recognizing the difficulties Korean researchers have in viewing the rare Korean documents stored in the U.S., the center inked an MOU with Berkeley in November 2008 to digitalize the documents. 
A digitalized version of Joseon Dynasty philosopher Jeong Yak-yong’s “Sigyeonggangeui” (Yonhap News)
A digitalized version of Joseon Dynasty philosopher Jeong Yak-yong’s “Sigyeonggangeui” (Yonhap News)

“The return of the royal Uigwe from Japan and France is grabbing the nation’s attention. These old documents are very valuable as well. It may not be a total redemption but digitalizing the documents and allowing easier access to them will be a big help to researchers in the field,” said Choi Yong-cheol, director of the research institute.

The documents stored at Berkeley are not only large in quantity but also highly valuable in terms of quality, according to the center. The documents range from literature, epigraphs, medical books and geography books.

The most notable collection at Berkeley is the Asami Library of classical Korean literature which includes over 900 printed books, manuscripts and rubbings. Asami Rintard, a Japanese who served as a judge in Korea during the Japanese colonial period, assembled the collection and took it to his country, where it was later sold to UC Berkeley. The collection also shows examples of early Korean movable-type printing dating back to the 17th century.

The Richmond Library, a book collection of around 1,300 titles which UC Berkeley collected by purchasing from old book stores in Insa-dong in the 1960s and 1970s, is another invaluable collection. The collection includes many genres of books and is known to have important pieces that are the only extant copy or not found anywhere else in Korea.

When the digitalization project is completed, it will be the largest volume of documents from the U.S. to be digitalized. Previously, the National Library of Korea had digitalized 594 old documents from the Library of Congress in the U.S., Harvard-Yenching Library and Columbia University Library.

The first batch of digitalized data will be accessible at The Academy of Korean Studies’ website (www.kostma.net) starting July.

After finishing the work with Berkeley, the Korea University research institute will digitalize the old Korean documents stored in the Oriental Library in Japan. The center concluded an MOU with the library last December. The Oriental Library is considered one of the world’s five best libraries for Oriental studies.

By Park Min-young  (claire@heraldcorp.com)
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