Two Paths from 1882 in the American Anthropology of Korea
This lecture considers the accumulation and anthropological display of Koreanobjects in the United States at the end of the 19th century, most notably at the U.S.National Museum of the Smithsonian Institution, which was dispatching collectors to thepeninsula by the end of 1883 and had a small Korean exhibit by 1889. The conceptual framework that has tended to be brought the collection of Korean things, as well as such related phenomena as World’s Fairs, continues to have as its central referent a poststructuralist and post-Orientalist literature on collection, classification, and display that arose in the 1980s and 1990s. The emphasis of this approach is on a “curatorial” level of agency: on the representational, disciplinary, and definitional effects of selecting and arranging objects that occur as they pass into the museum space. In considering the collection of Korea, however, there is a need to account for, simultaneously, the movement of things, the translation of the character of things, the movement of people among various nodes of the collecting network, and finally, the deliberate insertion of
objects into collections to shift the overall public representation of Korea in late 19th century U.S. public discourse. This lecture argues that an adequate account of this complexity requires us to see a broader field of agencies at work in the assembly of these Korean collections, to understand objects in collections as potentially projections of the agency of absent actors, and as a result to locate the effect of interpretation not simply at the aforementioned curatorial level but as distributed throughout the collecting field.