Primary Sources: Modern Korean History

This page is part of a collection assembling links to historical primary sources that are open on the web. It should be seen as a work in progress, and corrections or suggestions for additions are most welcome. These resources may be especially useful to students of modern Korean history who are looking for inspiration and primary sources for use in their essays who a) are limited to the English language (though some Korean language sources will be listed below too) b) lack access to subscription databases that universities with strong East Asia collections may offer, and c) are in lockdown due to a global pandemic.


Images, Audio, and Film
Japanese Reports Related to Colonial Korea
Missionary Reports and Minutes
Early Periodicals on Korea
The Wilson Center Digital Archive
Foreign Relations of the United States
US Government Documents Related to Korea
Travel Guidebooks
Other Online Archives and Collections
Korea Related Books Online
Primary Sources in Korean

Images, Audio, and Film

Korean Film Archive YouTube Archive – The Korean Film Archive has an absolutely amazing and extensive collection of Korean films going back to the Japanese colonial period on YouTube. Many of these films even include English language subtitles. A wonderful resource.

British Pathé Archive – The Korean War – This wonderful collection offers several hundred films and film clips on the topic, many of them news films only a few minutes of length and they can be viewed directly on the website.

Photo Collection of Modern Korea – Modern and Contemporary Korean History Seen through Photographs – This collection offers photographs broken into themes, with usually a half dozen or more photographs per theme and some context provided for each.

Korean War Propaganda Leaflets – “During the Korean War, North Dakota native Albert G. Brauer served as Chief of the Projects Branch, Psychological Warfare Division, G3 section. He was responsible for overseeing the creation of propaganda pamphlets that were airdropped over North Korea. This collection contain propaganda leaflets produced by the United States Army a as well as leaflets produced by the communist forces in Korea.”

Korean War Propaganda Leaflets (1952-1953) – More propaganda leaflets on the homepage of Robinson M. Yost.

UCSD North Korean Propaganda Poster Collection – Over sixty posters, and they include English translations.

Legacies of the Korean War – This audio, video, and transcription archive is particularly strong for capturing the oral history of Korean-American experiences of the Korean War from perspective of survivors and their descendants.

An African-American Soldier’s Korean War Photograph Album – 106 photos online and in Duke’s Rubenstein Library. “Album contains 106 black-and-white and color photographs mounted in a black-leaf photograph album, bound in Japanese-style lacquered covers. The photographer may be an African American soldier named Tommy, who served in the U.S. Army’s 511th Operation and Maintenance Service (OM SVC) Company during the Korean War. It is unclear whether the photographs are from Japan or from Korea.”

Jack London’s Photo Albums from Korea – A collection of photo albums from early 20th century Korea hosted by The Huntington.

AGSL Digital Photo Archive – This archive of photographs at the University of Wisconsin has a range of historical photographs of Korea.

Imperial War Museums – The online collections of the IWM has a searchable database with many Korea related items. Especially in the case of photographs these can be viewed directly on the site.

University of Chicago North Korean Stamp Collection – A collection of some 2,000 images from 20 stamp books.

The Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection – This is one of the net’s greatest online map collections (together with the David Rumsey historical map collection) and has a particularly rich collection of maps of Korea.

Be sure to also look through the resources linked from the East Asia Image Collection Blog

Japanese Reports Related to Korea – From Protectorate to Colony

The Japanese Residency General, and after 1910, Japan’s Government-General in colonial Korea produced a wide range of Japanese as well as English language materials. Many of the English language reports are available on the Internet Archive:

Residency General Annual Reports:
1907, 1908-9, 1909-10
Government-General Annual Reports:
1910-11, 1911-12, 1912-13, 1913-14, 1914-15, 1915-16, 1916-17, 1917-18, 1918-21, 1921-22, 1922-23, 1923-24, 1924-26, 1926-27, 1927-28, 1928-29, 1929-30, 1930-32, 1932-33, 1933-34, 1934-35, 1935-36, 1936-37?, 1937-38, 1938-39

Other Japanese documents relating to colonial Korea in English:
Administrative Reforms in Korea (1907)
Results of Three Years’ Administration of Chosen since Annexation (1914)
Prospectus of the Oriental Development Company (1921) – colonial period land development and expropriation company.
The New Administration In Chosen (1921)
Statistics Relating To The General Foreign Settlements In Chosen (1912)
Rules And Regulations Relating To Land Investigation (1914)
Revised Educational Regulations For Chosen Promulgated Under Date Of February 4, 1922
Laws and Regulations Relating To The Customs Of Chosen (1921)
Principal Centres And Places Of Interest In Chosen (1928)
Manual Of Education Of Koreans (1913)
History Of Annexation And Present Condition Of Chosen (1924)
Chosen Report On The Foreign Trade For The Year (1911)
Chosen Report On The Foreign Trade For The Year (1912)
Chosen Of To-Day Illustrated (1930)
A Glimpse Of Twenty Years Administration In Chosen (1932)
Annual Report For Fiscal Year Railway Bureau Of The Government General Of Chosen (1913)
Annual Report For Fiscal Year Railway Bureau Of The Government General Of Chosen (1916)

If you can read Japanese, there are a large number of colonial period books available digitally on the Korean National Library and HathiTrust. You can also find many Japanese language documents related to the colonial period on JACAR, the Japan Center for Asian Historical Records.

See also links and sources covered by Sayaka Chatani in her Basic Guide to Resources on Japanese Colonialism

Missionary Reports and Minutes

If you are interested in the history of Christianity in Korea one great first place to look is the UCLA Online Archive of Korean Christianity.

The Christian Movement in the Japanese Empire including Korea and Formosa (The Japan Christian Year Book) – Published by the Conference of Federated Missions, with hefty sections on Korea, with each volume over 600 pages in length. A number of volumes are on the Internet Archive: 1903-1904 | 1907 | 1908 | 1913 | 1916 | 1919 | 1920 | 1922

Minutes and Reports of the Annual Meeting of the Korea Mission – Yale hosts nearly two dozen of these files with convenient PDF download. Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Korea Mission:
1903 v19 | 1904 v20 | 1905? | 1906 v22 | 1907 v23 | 1908? | 1909 v25 | 1910 v26 | 1911 v27 | 1912 v28 | 1913 v29 | 1914 v30 | 1915 v31 | 1916 v32 | 1917 v33 | 1918 v34 | 1919 v35 | 1920 v36 | 1921-1934? | 1935 v51 | 1936 v52 | 1937 v53 | 1938 v54 | 1939 v55

Be sure to see the much more extensive list of minutes and reports on the UCLA Online Archive of Korean Christianity – Minutes and Reports though not all links are active.

Early Periodicals on Korea

The Korea Review (1901-1906) – Edited by Homer B. Hulbert, The Methodist Publishing House in Seoul, Korea. See the RASKB’s online collection of Volumes 1-6. Brother Anthony of Taizé also hosts the volumes. On the Internet Archive you can find volumes 1-6:
1901 | 1902 | 1903 | 1904 | 1905 | 1906

The Korean Repository (1892, 1895-1898) – See the RASKB’s archive of Volumes 1-5. Brother Anthony of Taizé also offers issue by issue download. Alternatively these volumes are available elsewhere as scanned volumes:
1892 v1 | 1895 v2 | 1896 v3 | 1897 v4 | 1898 v5

The Korea Magazine (1917-1919) – Brother Anthony of Taizé has transcribed and saved as word files all 28 issues of this journal: The Korea Magazine with a convenient table of contents. There is also an incomplete scanned Volume II on the Internet Archive.

Transactions of the Korea Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society – The RASKB has an online archive of over eighty volumes of the Transactions from 1900 to the 2010s.

Keijō Nippō (京城日報) – This is not in English, but this Japanese language newspaper, including its predecessor publication also available at this link, was published 1905-1944 and is one of the most important sources for the Japanese colonial period available online. Over 11,000 issues of this are available on the Internet Archive.


Digital Library of Korean Literature E-Books – The Literature Translation Institute of Korea have made some of their translated Korean short stories freely available. Some texts may be viewed in part or in full but you may have to sign up for a free account on their website.

Internet East Asian History Sourcebook – There are a few translations of documents related to Korean history here. See especially the Korea – General section.

Translations of Korean Literature by Brother Anthony of Taizé – Brother Anthony has done many translations over the year and this page links to quite a few that are freely readable online.

The Wilson Center Digital Archive

The Wilson Center hosts the world’s best online archive on the Cold War. Its work around the Korean War and inter-Korean relations, in particular has been at the center of some of the key debates around this historical period in the region. The archive has grouped some of its materials, often with translations, into a number of collections based on themes. Some of those most relevant to Korean history:

Foreign Relations of the United States
Wikipedia | Office of the Historian FRUS E-books | University of Wisconsin FRUS Collection

FRUS – The Foreign Relations of the United States is a series of books which offers a historical record of American foreign relations. It combines documents from a range of state sources relating to foreign diplomacy of the United States and new volumes with new materials are eagerly awaited by historians as they come out. E-book editions of all the volumes can be downloaded directly from the Office of the Historian. The University of Wisconsin digital FRUS collection offers nice PDF downloads of the volumes (sometimes several hundred megabytes each). Some of the volumes most relevant to Korean matters:

US Government Documents Related to Korea

In addition to the well-curated collection of documents in the FRUS collection, there are a large number of archival documents related to Korea that have been scanned. Some of these are available in commercial databases, but the Korean National Assembly Library has at least over two thousand US government documents related to Korea from the 1910s to at least the 1960s in its digital collections, and, in some cases, a single PDF file is a bundle that can be over a thousand pages in length. This collection includes materials from the US State Department, the CIA, and a host of other agencies. Most of these documents are in English and appear to have been scanned from microfilm from the US National Archives. The catalog entry for each offers a convenient PDF download link for the document, and the documents usually conveniently contain a table of contents within them.

I’ve not been able to determine an easy way to get an overview or index of these collections as a whole, but many of them are found with file numbers beginning with “KRDB.” One method is to search for documents through their search interface:

국회전자도서관 (Digital National Assembly Library of Korea)

This method has limits. Searching by one of the collection names, for example (“Records of the U.S. Department of State relating to internal affairs of Korea(Chosen)”) in quotation marks, will still show various hits on single words in document title rather than a phrase as a whole in the field for the collection, and appears to miss many of the documents in this collection. Another fast way to do a search is to use Google itself by constructing a Google search query in the following fashion

site: "KRDB" [Your specific search terms]

Here your search term may be a date, an event, a name, or you may want to limit your search to particular record groups in the US National archive. For example, to find all state department records, you would enter the Google search query

site: "KRDB" "RG 59"

Unfortunately, this does not seem to always reveal all the related documents. Keen observers will note that many of the documents come in a consecutive series of code numbers, such that KRDB20000005 leads to one 1919 document, and KRDB20000450 leads to another document from 1950. Most but not all of the numbers between these two are from related collections, often in chronological stretches. There are over a dozen of these consecutive bundles of files in different number ranges.

Other US Government Documents and Reports:

Travel Guidebooks

The Chosen Railway (1912)

Terry’s Japanese Empire : including Korea and Formosa : with chapters on Manchuria, the Trans-Siberian railway, and the chief ocean routes to Japan : a guidebook for travelers
1914 Ed. | 1919 Ed. | 1927 Ed. | 1928 Ed.

Cook’s handbook for tourists to Peking, Tientsin, Shan-Hai-Kwan, Mukden, Dairen, Port Aurthur and Keijyo (Seoul) – Thomas Cook:
1910 Ed. | 1913 Ed.

Other Online Archives and Collections

미군정기 군정단 군정중대 문서 – Although the interface is in Korean, this archive contains thousands of pages of English language sources from the US occupation of Korea after Japanese surrender. These are divided into five document collections. Click on one of these or the volume as a whole, and click the 원문이미지 button to view the original document directly within a web-based reader. Many documents are also transcribed.

History of the United States Army Forces in Korea (I-IV) – also hosted by the National Institute of Korean History (국사편찬위원회).

Korean American Digital Archive – “The Korean American Digital Archive brings more than 13,000 pages of documents, over 1,900 photographs, and about 180 sound files together in one searchable collection that documents the Korean American community during the period of resistance to Japanese rule in Korea and reveal the organizational and private experience of Koreans in America between 1903 and 1965.”

Korean Independence Outbreak Movement Online Exhibit – “The Records of the Korean Independence Outbreak, currently forming part of the archives in The Burke Library, were sent from Shanghai to Charles Fahs, the librarian of the former Mission Research Library in New York, by Korean Independence leaders in exile during 1919. The typescript reports here describe events in March/April 1919 and are accompanied by a pamphlet with rare and sometimes disturbing black and white photographs illustrating the events.”

National Security Internet Archive – There are many Korea related documents in this collection. As many of these documents are compiled from FOIA requests, etc. and individual files are sometimes extracted from there archival context, the sources of some documents are not always clear. “The National Security Internet Archive focuses on files collected from That 1 Archive, MuckRock, NARA, the National Security Archive at GWU, Hood College, the Black Vault, the Government Attic, Paperless Archives, Ernie Lazar, the International Center for 9/11 Studies as well as various other historians, collectors and activists.”

Baptism By Fire: CIA Analysis of the Korean War Overview

The Defense Technical Information Archive – “The Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC) is the premier repository for research and engineering information for the United States Department of Defense. DTIC’s Suite of Services is available to DoD personnel, defense contractors, federal government personnel and contractors and selected academic institutions. The general public can access unclassified, unlimited information, including many full-text downloadable documents, through the public Web site, DTIC Online. DTIC’s collections contain over 4 million documents including technical reports, research in progress and Independent Research and Development (IR&D) summaries. DTIC also publishes searchable Congressional budget data shortly after its release from Congress. DTIC acquires approximately 25,000 new documents each year.”

“Cherokee Documents” – 5.18 Archives – Diplomatic cables which informed reporting by Tim Shorrock on the Gwangju Uprising in 1980. Hosted by the 5.18 archives, and see also Tim Shorrock’s own website here.
Jan – July 1979 | Aug – Nov 1979 | Dec 1979 – April 1980 | May – July 1980 | August – Dec 1980

UCLA Online Archive Korean Christianity – An impressive collection of bibliographical material on this subject, very often linked to Internet Archive or other places to access older books, pamphlets, and other materials related to Korean Christianity.

Other Korea Related Books Online

There are many older books in English available on the Internet Archive, the Project Gutenberg, and as Full View books on HathiTrust. The list below overlaps in large part with a wonderful list of online books found on the Royal Asiatic Society-Korea Branch homepage. They also host to scans of a collection of books belonging to former UK Ambassador to Korea Martin Uden. As the RASKB points out, another great resource for online books about Korea is:

Myongji-LG Korean Studies Library which hosts hundreds of old books on its website in a variety of languages, but they are unfortunately slow to load and inconvenient to browse, so check the Internet Archive or HathiTrust for the book if you want to explore a volume in more depth. To view any of the books you find above, on the book’s catalog entry or in tables containing lists of books look for the link to the “원문” (Original Text), which will open the reader interface.

e-Asia Digital Library – Another resource, also described on the RASKB website in greater detail is the Univeristy of Oregon digital library, which contains nearly five hundred digitized books on Korea, including many of those linked below. Sometimes these are Google scanned books uploaded to their collection. You may find the list of books tagged North Korea here: Korea (North) and the books related to South Korea (and often pre-1945 period books as well) here: Korea (South). Opening a book takes you to a reader interfact, and you can download a PDF of a volume directly there.

Old Book About Korea Online – Brother Anthony of Taizé has an extensive list of old books related Korea. He includes a nice list of French language works as well. In addition, for some of these volumes, he has produced transcribed version or more specific background information.

See also the books and pamphlets related to Korean Christianity listed and often linked to Internet Archive copies in a chronological fashion at the UCLA Online Archive of Korean Christianity. They also have an extensive bibilography organised by sub-themes related to Korean Christianity.

The following list will be expanded gradually:

See also the Digital Library of Korean Classics collection on Internet Archive.

Primary Sources in Korean

The emphasis of this page has primarily been on English language sources of use to students studying Korean history in a university setting that may not be able to read Korean, but below we’ll add some of the many rich online sources in Korean. South Korea has an staggering variety of online databases and far fewer of them are limited to commercial subscriptions or other membership walled gardens than in most countries. Many of these are free and on the open web, but unfortunately some of them require Windows OS only reader downloads, some sources require that you be on-site, and the connectivity to some can be slow or have clunky and heavy interfaces. There are also Korean language sources in a number of online archives outside of Korea as well.

I recommend you explore the expansive links to online resources in the University of Michigan library’s Korean Online Resources website. Many of the links there are open access.

The Korean Digital National Library – A huge collection of Korean books has been made available here on the Korean National Library home page. The Government-General’s library of Japanese language books is also in digital form and can be found here. When searching for colonial period books, if you don’t get the expected results searching with Korean hanja, try again with a search using Japanese kanji.

국회전자도서관 – Digital National Assembly Library of Korea. In addition to the US government documents related to Korea mentioned above, it is often good to check this library database in addition to the National Library as it has many digital materials easily downloadable as PDFs. This include many historical periodicals, though they are often indexed at the article level, rather than whole issues.

The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty 朝鮮王朝實錄 – An amazing online archive of the most important source from the Joseon dynasty: a full run of its annals. See also: 승정원일기 The Daily Records of Royal Secretariat of Joseon Dynasty

국사편찬위원회 – The National Institute of History is host to a large range of historical sources. Many of these are accessed through the following portal:

Korean History Digital Archive (Korean) a massive variety of historical sources can be found here via this central portal to the 한국역사정보통합시스템.

한국역사정보통합시스템 – 근현대 신문자료 – Among the resources that can be found at the 한국역사정보통합시스템 is an historical newspaper database (독립신문, 皇城新聞 etc.); requires viewer application unless you choose the “old” viewer.

Korean Literary Collection: Between Liberation Space and Time of Need, 1945-1950 – A collection of several dozen Korean publications from 1945-1950.

North Korean Serials – The US Library of Congress has a wonderful collection of over 4,000 North Korean periodical issues available online, from over 90 different publications (see the publication list).

NAVER누스 라이브러리 – Naver offers a way to browse through historical issues of newspapers going back, with some gaps, to the 1920s (for 東亞日報). Includes back issues of 한겨레, 매일경제, 동아일보, 경향신문. Will show you the original or version with 漢字 readings in hangul.

조선뉴스 라이브러리100 – Search the archives of the 朝鮮日報 newspaper.

朝鮮日報 – Issues from 1920-1950 are available and can be downloaded by the issue from the Internet Archive.

東亞日報 – Issues from 1920-1950 are available and can be downloaded by the issue from the Internet Archive.

대한민국 신문 아카이브 – A historical newspaper database hosted by the national library.

古신문 검색 – a historical newspaper search engine. Appears to have been moved to the National Library newspaper search mentioned above. See also their post-1960s newspaper database.

Korean National Archives (Korean) some documents can only be viewed within Korean libraries

노동자의 책 – A collection of several thousand ebooks in Korean, including Marxist theoretical and historical texts.

1945–50 Korean Literary Collection (Korean) Univ. Washington

Histopia (Korean) – Collection of digitized historical Korean sources

KORCIS Korean Old and Rare Collection Information System 한국고저적종합록시스템

The Independence Hall of Korea 독립기념관

Kyujanggak Archive Search Korean: 원문자료 검색– Seoul National University Kyujanggak Institute for Korean Studies 규장각한국학연구원. See, for example, their Modern Government Records section (근대정부기록류).

Berkeley’s C.V. Starr Library Internet Archive Collection – has over 3,800 Korean texts available.

Minsokwon – Harvard-Yenching Library Korean rare book digitization project – Collection of scanned rare Korean books at Harvard-Yenching.

Open Archives – Range of images, documents, and accounts from the political turmoil of the 1960s to the 1990s

Library Guides and Bibliographies

University of Michigan Korean Studies Research Guide – Really extensive collection of resources. Far more than are provided here for materials in the Korean language.
Cambridge University Korea E-Resources Guide
Harvard Korea Research Guide
U of California Berkely East Asia Research Guide
University of Washington East Asia Guide
Yale Korea Research Guide
UCLA Korean Studies Library Guide

Korean History: A Bibliography – An extensive bibliography of secondary and primary works related to Korea

Occidental Literature on Korea (1931) – An old list of books about Korea stretching over 180 pages in the Transactions of the Korea Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society by Horace Underwood.

Contributors: Links, suggestions and corrections with help of Konrad M. Lawson, Holly Stephens, Owen Miller, Vladimir Tikhonov, and Matt Van Volkenburg. Many links already found assembled thanks to the Royal Asiatic Society-Korea Branch and some of the library guides above.

See also Primary Sources: Missionary Perspectives on China

We most welcome your corrections or suggestions for additions to the page. You can reach Konrad at or @kmlawson on Twitter.

Feel free to use this page as a starting point for building your own collection of resources. Or, if you want to make direct edits and suggestions for new materials here or to fix errors, for your convenience, a simple version of the contents of this page is kept as html on Github here: Modern Korean History Primary Sources. Pull requests and forks of the page are welcome.