Online resources for Chosŏn history: Government annals

Following the lead of Konrad I thought I might start off my posts with something about finding Korean history resources online. It is now actually possible to do quite a bit of research, even on pre-twentieth century primary sources without getting up from your computer (whether this is as interesting as searching stuff out a library or archive is quite another question). Of course the biggest advantage of these sources being online must be for people who are physically a long way away from a library that holds, say, a copy of the massive Sŭngjŏngwon Ilgi 承政院日記 (Daily Records of the Royal Secretariat). Thus, with a decent internet connection it should now be possible to live in Zanzibar and research 18th century Korean political history.

A second advantage is the ability to search for keywords within these massive texts. Some of the physical editions of the Chosŏn government annals do have indexes, but searching a text online is much quicker and more precise (bearing in mind that these books run into hundreds of volumes and looking things up from an index means continually pulling different volumes off the shelf).

So far, the site I’ve made most use of when searching pre-twentieth century sources is probably Seoul University’s Kyujanggak Library website. Here you can do a simultaneous search for keywords in a number of different categories of sources, including kodosŏ, komunsŏ, modern government records and two different Chosŏn government annals: the Ilsŏngnok 日省錄 (Records of Daily Reflection) and the Naegak Illyŏk (Daily Records of the Kyujanggak). The Kyujanggak site also has two further annals online in scanned form: Sŭngjŏngwon Ilgi and Pibyŏnsa Tŭngnok 備邊司謄錄 (Records of the Border Defence Command), through which you can browse but not search.

The National History Compilation Committee (국사편찬위원회) website does have a searchable digitised version of the Sŭngjŏngwon Ilgi online, which I’ve found to be quite easy to use. And the Korean Classics Research Institute (민족문화추진회) appears to be gradually uploading some sections of the modern Korean translations of the Ilsŏngnok and Sŭngjŏngwon Ilgi that have been coming out in book form over the last few decades. So far they have a few years of Chŏngjo’s reign for the Ilsŏngnok and years 1-35 of Kojong’s reign for the Sŭngjŏngwon Ilgi.

The Korean History Data Integration System (한국역사정보통합시스템) is supposed to be a way of bringing all these different online sources together in a single searchable database. I found it quite hard to use for a while, but it seems to have been improved quite a bit recently. Basically it allows you to search all the sources on the sites mentioned above and quite a few more sites besides.

One word of warning on all these sites: they don’t seem to be very Firefox-friendly and like some other Korean websites they can be messy to navigate and require you to download some piece of viewing software or other. Oh, and they seem to love pop-ups too.


  1. Thanks a bunch for posting this Owen!

    I have to say that my biggest frustration with online research on Korea related stuff is basically:

    95% of what is out there doesn’t work for Macintosh
    70% of what I have tried on a PC only seems to work right on Internet Explorer
    And as you mention, much of what is out there requires obscure plug-ins

    Finally, many great online tools and ordering books online through various book store links friends send me very often ask me for my “Korean ID number” which – of course, I don’t have…

    All this is really frustrating, and I really hope this will change in future years. I really hope that web-standards and good cross-browser (which if standards-based comes naturally) resources will make their way online and that there will be more ways for those of us without Korean ID numbers to partake of the Korean internet world…

  2. Yes, the whole log-in thing with Korean websites can be very frustrating. Some do have special log-in facilities for ‘foreigners’, like the Hankyoreh newspaper, but even then I tend to find that it’s hard to get it to work. Despite all that and the general incompatibility of many sites with anything other than IE running on Windows, it is worth persevering since libraries there tend to be very advanced with their digitisation of archives. I’ll write another post on some other useful sites I’ve found, particularly for locating journal articles.

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