Vernacular itineraries: Korean letters from family to national archive

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Vernacular Korean letters were exchanged routinely in the royal and elite families of Chosǒn Korea (1392-1910), and women were at least on one side of a letter's itinerary. While male-centered literary Chinese learning held highest prestige, the patriarchal families of the time cherished their private archives, in which vernacular letters were sentimental mementos, testaments of women's learning, and status symbols. This familial epistolary archive received varying elaborations as it transitioned into museums and departments of national literature in South Korea. While elite vernacular epistolary style (naeganch'e) embodies the core of tradition and national literature for such colonial-era intellectuals as Yi Pyǒnggi (1891-1968) and Yi T'aejun (1904.?), the anticolonial and antifeudal current of the post-1945 South Korean scholarship overlooks the elite tradition. This explains the persistent invisibility of women-centered elite vernacular culture in the contemporary scholarship of Chosǒn Korea. Developing the notion of itinerary-the transition, appropriation, and recoding of elite vernacular letters.this article ponders the implication of archival practices upon the study of the past, and highlights the knowledge systems that determined the visibility and meaning of elite vernacular culture in Korea's modern era.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)345-371
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Korean Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


  • Archives and memory
  • Chosǒn Korea
  • Elite vernacular Korean culture
  • Nationalization of tradition
  • Vernacular Korean epistolary anthologies
  • Women's culture


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