Donald Leslie Baker

Prospective Graduate Students / Postdocs

This faculty member is currently not actively recruiting graduate students or Postdoctoral Fellows, but might consider co-supervision together with another faculty member.


Research Classification

Research Interests

Korean History
Confucian Philosophy
Religion in Korea
science in pre-modern Korea
Kwangju Uprising of 1980

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs

Affiliations to Research Centres, Institutes & Clusters

Research Options

I am available and interested in collaborations (e.g. clusters, grants).
I am interested in and conduct interdisciplinary research.

Research Methodology

I draw on pre-modern texts in Classical Chinese for my research.
I draw on oral histories for research on the Kwangju Uprising of 1980

Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Agency and oppression in ChosOn religious women's lives: an analysis of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Catholic virgins in Korea (2019)

This dissertation explores Korean female virgins’ practice of autonomy and their ability to confront oppression that was present in Confucian society and the Catholic Church during the late 18th and 19th centuries in Chosǒn, Korea. The adoption of the Catholic notion of virginity and the establishment of the nascent Catholic Church in Chosǒn, Korea allowed Korean women to escape the demands of forced arranged marriages during the late 18th century. Korean Catholic women confronted opposition from their families and persecution from society for choosing a religious life of perpetual virginity. Another challenge began when French missionaries from the Société des Missions Étrangères de Paris (hereafter MEP) arrived in 1836 and attempted to control Korean virgins by prohibiting them from practicing perpetual virginity autonomously and imposing strict regulations. As a result, Korean virgins developed new forms of subjectivity by valuing the development and realization of the self and practicing renunciation based on Catholic teachings. Therefore, they considered themselves to be Christian virgins without the approval or recognition of the Church. Although it seemed that they were subordinate to the authority of the Church and clergy, in reality, Korean virgins resisted their authority and achieved freedom by practicing Foucauldian ethical subjectivity. Korean virgins’ resistance and agency were ignored by Korean historians throughout the 20th century. The general understanding was that Korean virgins were part of the modernization (i.e., women’s liberation and gender equality) that Catholicism brought to Chosǒn, Korea throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. However, this dissertation challenges this line of thinking and suggests that the Catholic Church did not liberate Korean women from patriarchal oppression or create gender equity for Korean women before the 20th century. Instead, their resistance to clerical controls and the development of a new form of subjectivity shows that Korean Catholic women replaced Confucian patriarchy with Catholic patriarchy, thus emphasizing the authority of the Church and its priests.

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Life and death of a despoiler: the confucian reformation of Yun Hyu (2019)

Yun Hyu was a seventeenth-century scholar-official of the Chosŏn Dynasty. Although he never took the civil service exams, he held office under three different Chosŏn Kings. Yun Hyu is mostly known for his involvement in the so-called Rites Controversy over the mourning of King Hyojong, and for his Socratian execution, by poison. Past studies of Yun Hyu suggested a variety of reasons for the controversial treatment he received. In this work I argue that we should think of Yun Hyu as a religious thinker. Reading Yun Hyu as a theologian allow us to appreciate the dramatic implications of his thought and understand the strong reaction of his peers and opponents. To do so I first present Yun Hyu’s life and work in the context of his time and society, namely the seventeenth-century Neo-Confucian factions. This is Yun Hyu’s most complete biography in English to date. It is followed by a close reading of his most influential texts. I have divided Yun Hyu’s writings into three subjects to represent the main aspects of his religious thought: Sacred texts, divinity and the afterlife. In each chapter I attempt to introduce Yun Hyu’s original thought and contributions but also demonstrate how a religious reading of his writing sheds some light on his motives. Finally, I conclude by discussing the religiousness of Neo-Confucianism, demonstrating how it is implemented in the case of Chosŏn in general and Yun Hyu specifically. In particular I demonstrate that a cognitive and evolutionary approach to religion has much to offer us in the way of understanding the motives and agenda of premodern people.

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Korean as a transitional literacy: language education, curricularization, and the vernacular-cosmopolitan interface in early modern Korea, 1895-1925 (2017)

This study argues that language and literacy during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (1895-1925) were formed through several interactive processes, including the development of “modern” literature and writing styles, processes of translation, dictionary compilation, and the circulation and functioning of language ideologies and discourses on linguistic modernity. Because Japanese engaged with the above processes vis-à-vis Western languages before Korean, Korean intellectuals found in the Japanese language a ready-made model for reform and modernization. Western notions of linguistic modernity—what modern language and literature “ought to be”—as well as the inundation of Korean with Japanese terms due to Korea’s late engagement with dictionary compilation and translation resulted in a Korean language that increasingly came to resemble Japanese. This facilitated the shift to higher Japanese literacy when combined with a colonial curriculum aimed at truncated Korean literacy and expansive Japanese. The convergence of the above processes with the political will engendered in education policy during a period of instability and flux in the orthographical development of Korean from that encoded in Literary Sinitic (hanmun) to Sino-Korean Mixed Script (kukhanmun) combined to lay the foundations for a shift from semi-literacy in Korean to literacy in Japanese, with Korean acting as a transitional literacy, and the sinograph (hancha) functioning as a mediating agent. Whereas pre-colonial language textbooks from various educational streams represented alternative pronouncements on vernacular literacy as well as laboratories for vernacular-cosmopolitan differentiation, Japanese-produced textbooks codified the official vision of colonial literacy, demonstrating a continued commitment to Mixed-Script orthography, directing the gradual diminution of Literary Sinitic, employing the sinograph as a diachronic and translingual mediating agent, and actualizing bilingual literacy transitioning.

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Civil War, Politicide, and the Politics of Memory in South Korea, 1948-1961 (2016)

This thesis explores the history and memory of three incidents of massacres committed by South Korean government forces during the Korean civil war (1948-1953) against alleged "communists"—the Cheju Incident, the National Guidance League Incident, and the Kŏch'ang Incident. These three episodes were part of a broader "politicide" that was organized and facilitated by the nascent South Korean National Security State. Drawing from sources unearthed by the South Korean Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the National Committee for the Investigation of the Truth about the Cheju 4.3 Incident, and various bereaved family associations, this dissertation demonstrates that this politicide was rooted in processes of anticommunist ideological consolidation and state building that were predicated upon the obliteration of the "communist" other, in the context of a fratricidal civil war. From 1953 to 1960, in the aftermath of this period of mass violence, survivors and bereaved families were subjected to legal, economic, and social discrimination from the state, which threatened these families with "social death". Most profoundly, state prohibitions on the burial and mourning of "communists" engendered a social crises within these communities. However, some families were granted the right to mourn, and through the construction of mass graves honouring the victims, these families articulated an alternative identity than that imposed by the anticommunist state: one that was rooted in the notion of a unified bereaved subject. In 1960, the authoritarian First Republic collapsed, leading to a brief period of liberation. In this context, victims formed Bereaved Family Associations. Through petitions, advertisements, private and public mourning practices, and the establishment of "truth" committees, the Bereaved Family Associations offered a radical rethinking of the Korean War past. The lynchpin of this strategy was an alternative nationalist narrative in which the alleged "communists" were reconceived as patriotic martyrs for a not-yet-authored unified democratic state. However, in the wake of the military coup of May 16, 1961, these efforts were brutally repressed, as the military junta arrested and tortured the Bereaved Family Associations' leadership, destroyed monuments dedicated the atrocities' victims, and desecrated the mass graves built to honour the spirits of the dead.

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Testing the Limits: King ChOngjo and Royal Power in Late ChosOn (2014)

The present work examines the attempt of Chŏngjo, King of Korea from 1776 to 1800, to shift the balance of power in late Chosŏn Korea in favor of the crown. It examines the official court records, the King’s official writings, and the recent discovery of Chŏngjo’s “secret” letters to high official and ostensible enemy Sim Hwan-ji, using them to illustrate how the King navigated the labyrinthine webs of power. Chapter 1 lays the groundwork of late Chosŏn history and examines Chŏngjo’s legitimacy issues arising from the death of his father. Chapter 2 deals with political philosophy, as Chŏngjo struggled with the aristocracy over the proper interpretation of Neo-Confucian ideology. Chapter 3 addresses how Chŏngjo dealt with the various power groups at court. After looking at his early struggles with the machinations of Hong Kuk-gyŏng, it examines the intrigues against his half-brother Prince Ŭn-ŏn, his aunt Princess Hwawŏn, and his uncle Hong In-han, and reveals how the King sought to protect royal relatives to preserve the majesty of the royal clan and to dispel any pretensions his mother’s family may have had of dominating the throne. The chapter then turns to Chŏngjo’s handling of the major political factions and his subtle refinement of the Policy of Impartiality. Chapter 4 looks at Chŏngjo’s efforts to institute a system to perpetuate royal power. After briefly examining his struggles with the bureaucracy over a key government position, the chapter investigates his creation of two new administrative organs to strengthen royal power: a system to train future administrators in his own particular throne-centered interpretation of Confucianism, the ch’ogye munsin, and a locus of power outside the traditional bureaucratic ladder, the Royal Library. Chapter 5 addresses Chŏngjo’s military reforms. After gutting the established military organizations, he set up a new army under the command of his personally-selected governor in the city of Suwŏn, headquartered at the newly-constructed Illustrious Fortress. The sixth and final chapter concludes with an assessment of Chŏngjo’s reforms: He was largely successful in creating space for royal autonomy during his lifetime but was largely unsuccessful in perpetuating that power beyond his reign.

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Looping effects between images and realities: understanding the plurality of Korean shamanism (2012)

This thesis aims to show the wide spectrum of Korean shamanism, not only by exploring a body of images of Korean shamanism that has been established on the level of academic discourse, but also by illustrating the practices of modern shamans and clients. I mean by the words “a wide spectrum of Korean shamanism” that there are multiple images and realities subsumed under the title of Korean shamanism. Not only negatively associated concepts, such as “superstition,” “magic,” “primitive” and so on, but also positive images coexist on the contemporary spectrum of Korean shamanism. Those images do not remain limited to academia, but also shape the reality of Korean shamanism, having been appropriated by governmental policies as well as by shamans themselves. I call it “looping effects between images and realities” in Korean shamanism. In order to show the looping effect in Korean shamanism, I first analyze the historical development of the shamanism-image which has been configured within official discourses in specific intellectual and social contexts. Various identifications and classifications of Korean shamanism are placed along the spectrum of Korean shamanism anchored by two extreme images, “the negative image” and “the positive one.” I will then show how those images of Korean shamanism affect Korean shamans’ identity-making process and even the reconfiguration of Korean shamanism itself. Here, academic discourses are perceived as one constituent of contemporary Korean shamanism. As another factor in the formation of the plural realities of Korean shamanism, I suggest the dynamic relationship between shaman and client. For over one hundred years, Koreans have experienced radical changes in the realms of spirituality and materiality. In accordance with these changes, many fundamental values, such as modern scientific rationalism and the religious worldview, have competed with each other. In this circumstance, Korean shamans try to enforce a shamanic worldview through ritual activities, and their ritual activities are reorganized according to their contemporary clients’ various desires which reflect specific situations. In conclusion, in this dissertation, I contend that all these feedback processes, between images and realities and between shaman and client, have constructed the plurality of Korean shamanism.

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The ambiguity of violence: ideology, state, and religion in the late Choson dynasty (2011)

My dissertation focuses on the violence associated with two Korean Catholics from the late Chosŏn dynasty. My first subject, Alexius Hwang Sayŏng, wrote a letter during the anti-Catholic suppression of 1801 to the bishop of Beijing proposing that a Western armada invade Korea to force the Chosŏn state to tolerate Catholicism, only to be arrested and executed for treason. In 1909, my second subject, Thomas An Chunggŭn, assassinated Itō Hirobumi, the first resident-general of Korea, in hopes that his death would lead to the restoration of Korean independence. Through the study of their writings, interrogation reports, court records, public pronouncements, newspapers, missionary letters and journals, I reveal the different types of violence they sought to justify, suffered, and were reacting to. While Hwang and Neo-Confucian officials both believed that violence could be legitimately deployed in order to actualize the worldviews mandated by their respective religions, the centrality of religion had largely been eclipsed by the secular ideologies of nationalism, Social-Darwinism, and Pan-Asianism, by An’s time. This situation led to a struggle within and between An and foreign missionaries over the proper relationship between nation, state, and religion, and eventually to An’s decision to kill Itō for both religious and secular reasons, even as the Catholic Church forbade violent resistance to Japan’s colonial project. Through a comparison of the violence associated with Hwang and An, I show that religion can both encourage and discourage violence at the same time, and that its influence can be shaped, magnified, or diminished by secular worldviews, proving the difficulty in simply labeling violence as “religious” or “secular,” and the essentially ambiguous nature of violence. I therefore propose that, in contravention to scholars who argue that religion is somehow more violent than secular ideologies, it is not so much whether a type of violence can be labeled as secular or religious, but the contents of that worldview, its relationship with other worldviews within an individual, and the historical context in which it is actualized, that is more important in determining its propensity for violence.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

A generational shift in the Catholic missionary groups: Catholic missionaries' strugge confronting protestant power in P'yongan province (2014)

This thesis explores the situation of the Catholic missionaries in P’yŏngan Province from 1896 to 1936. In this region, Protestants won exceptional success. Confronting this challenge, French missionaries moved into that province and carried out missionary work in this region up until 1922. From 1923, American missionaries replaced them and assumed responsibility for Catholic activities in the same region. French missionaries who witnessed how successful Protestants were in that area saw them as competitors. Conflicts between them over land ownership (the P’yŏngyang Land Affair) reveal how serious that competition was. This study also investigates the difference between the Catholic community and the Protestant community in the use of medical services in missionary activities. Catholic missionaries had only medical clinics while Protestant missionaries had physician specialists and hospitals. I also examine the shortage of resources for the Catholic Church. They did not have enough funds or missionaries and this shortfall had a negative effect on their missionary work in this Province. French missionaries found themselves unable to handle the various mission tasks in the region and they finally decided to invite another missionary group to support mission work for this region, the Marynollers, an American missionary order. Those American missionaries also recognized the success of Protestant missionaries in P’yŏngan Province. Their missionary achievements stimulated American Catholic missionaries to try even harder to promote Catholicism in that part of Korea. The American missionaries attempted to cultivate Korean seminary students, publicize Catholicism to non-Catholics and encourage those who were already Catholic believers by publishing a local magazine. Their style of missionary work was different from that of French missionaries. Both the local Catholic believers and the American missionaries had a strong sense of belonging to a minority even in their own home country. This shared sentiment of the American missionaries and the Catholic believers in P’yŏngan Province helped them understand each other and work together effectively.

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The jurisdiction to regulate aquaculture in Canada (2014)

Canadian aquaculture regulations need reform. Aquaculture regulations are constitutionally unsound and environmentally inconsistent. The federal government regulates aquaculture in British Columbia but the provinces regulate aquaculture in the Atlantic provinces despite the fact that similar provincial regulations were struck down as unconstitutional in British Columbia in Morton v British Columbia (Minister of Agriculture and Lands). No appeal court in Canada has ruled on the constitutionality of provincial aquaculture laws. As a result, provincial aquaculture laws are vulnerable to attack and aquaculturists face uncertainty. The environment also suffers from different environmental standards from province to province. In British Columbia, the federal government applies stringent disease and escapee regulations whereas in the Atlantic provinces disease and escapee regulations vary greatly.The purpose of this thesis is to clarify the scope of the federal and provincial legislative powers to regulate aquaculture. I conclude that the Morton decision interpreted the federal “sea coast and inland fisheries” power too broadly, incorrectly including net-pen aquaculture as a “fishery”. I then apply the pith and substance analysis to the provincial aquaculture laws impugned in Morton and I conclude that provincial escapee regulations are likely ultra vires but that provincial seafloor pollution regulations are likely intra vires. I also apply the pith and substance analysis to the aquaculture regulations in the Atlantic provinces and conclude that their property rights laws are likely ultra vires but their disease laws are likely intra vires. This review of escapee and disease regulations exposes unacceptable discrepancies in the standards between the provinces. In addition, I clarify jurisdictional issues that may arise regarding shellfish, plant, on-land, and offshore aquaculture. Finally, I critique the federal Pacific Aquaculture Regulations created in response to the Morton decision. I conclude that they lack transparency and they permit the release of deleterious substances that are, at the same time, prohibited by the Fisheries Act. By articulating the scope of legislative power relevant to aquaculture, this thesis defines a foundation upon which Canada and the provinces can build sustainable and consistent aquaculture regulations for future generations.

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Collusive oligopolistic politics: Sedo and the political structure of early-nineteenth-century Choson Korea (2012)

In contemporary Korean historiography, the reign periods of King Sunjo (r. 1800-1834), King Hŏnjong (r.1834-1849), and King Ch’ŏlchong (r. 1849-1863) are generally called “The Era of Sedo Politics” in Chosŏn Korea (1392-1910). In contemporary Korean historiography, the political theme of sedo predominated after the death of King Chŏngjo (r. 1776-1800), when national politics was exclusively led by a few powerful royal in-law families, most notably the Andong Kim and P’ungyang Cho clans, for sixty-three years. Obviously, those two major clans enjoyed extensive political authority and high social status in the nineteenth century. However, the negative images and common misconceptions in previous research on sedo politics have prevented scholars from understanding the period of sedo politics from a balanced angle and driven them to emphasize its unique features too much. This thesis rather paints the mainstream view of the political history of late Chosŏn Korea with a different brush. Starting off with a discussion of the definition and origin of the historical terminology sedo (世道 or 勢道), this paper questions more deeply the structure of sedo politics and re-examines previous research on characterizations of sedo politics. In addition, based on some statistical data and extensive research in genealogy records, this thesis will identify many points that cannot be illustrated or that are only partially explored in existing literature in the context of the 1800 to 1863 era of sedo politics. Through this re-examination, this research project will contribute to enlarging the vision of the political history of Korea in the first half of the nineteenth century, which has not been a major research topic among political historians of Korea, who have mainly dealt with struggles and conflicts for political power among various historical agents.

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The structure of the Doctrine of the Mean in diagrams (2011)

This study examines how Neo-Confucian scholars of the Chosŏn dynasty used diagrams, focusing on diagrams that depict the structure of the Doctrine of the Mean. Ever since it was extracted from the Record of Rites by Zhu Xi, the Doctrine of the Mean proved to be an important subject of scholarship. Debates about the division of the text were often related to other important issues at hand. Thus, the diagrams concerned with this problem can be seen as a nexus where various issues meet. This study provides detailed information of two particular diagrams: Kwŏn Kŭn’s late 14th century “Diagram of the Opening Section of Doctrine of the Mean,” and Yi Chin-sang’s late 19th century “Diagram of Four Branches and Six Sections of the Doctrine of the Mean.” With five centuries between them, the two diagrams are surprisingly similar, sharing both visual language and many pre-suppositions. However, a close comparison of the two can reveal their differences, and the advancements made in diagram-making during the Chosŏn dynasty. The common methodology used to analyze diagrams is to discuss the form and the content of the diagram, usually in the context of the attached text. In a similar way, the sorting of diagrams into categories is done according to their visual aspect and their topic. Useful as it may be, this form of analysis is limited when dealing with complicated diagrams. By using the philosophy of C.S. Peirce, this study attempts to show how a three-fold view of a diagram as a symbol, an object, and an interpretation, can lead to better understanding of the diagram and its function. Furthermore, by applying the Peircian typology, a new division of diagram emerges.

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