This unit can fit into my Advanced Topics: World History II course (the equivalent of AP World History: Modern) either during our unit on Twentieth Century Conflicts (which extends from Imperialism through the Cold War), or as part of a review for the AP exam.
As this will come towards the end of the course, students will be familiar with content including styles of government: monarchy, imperialist, communist, military dictatorship, and capitalist democracy. They will need to be ready to tackle how these forms of government were manifested on the Korean peninsula specifically between 1900-2020. Students will be familiar with the historical thinking skills of contextualization, causation, comparison, and continuity and change over time. Again, they will apply these skills to an examination of the Korean century.
2. Skill and content objectives
The following National Council for the Social Studies educational standards are addressed by this curriculum plan:
D2.His.1.9-12. Evaluate how historical events and developments were shaped by unique circumstances of time and place as well as broader historical contexts.
D2.His.2.9-12. Analyze change and continuity in historical eras.
D2.His.3.9-12. Use questions generated about individuals and groups to assess how the significance of their actions changes over time and is shaped by historical context.
D2.His.4.9-12. Analyze complex and interacting factors that influenced the perspectives of people during different historical eras.
D2. His.14.9-12. Analyze multiple and complex causes and effects of events in the past.
3. Detailed lesson plan
Lesson Objective: Analyze the impact of various forms of government on Korean Society between 1900-2020.
This lesson may be completed in a low-tech version, a higher-tech version, and an artistic application. (see below)
Note: this may be done on an individual basis, or in groups, with students divided into the following time periods:
Korean Empire (1897-1910)
Colonization by Japan (1910-1945)
Interwar Period (1945-1950)
Korean War (1950-1953)
North Korea: Reign of Kim Il Sung (1948-1994)
South Korea: Military Dictatorship (1953-1987)
South Korea: Capitalist Democracy (1987-present)
North Korea: Reign of Kim Jong Il (1994-2012)
North Korea: Reign of Kim Jong Un (2012-present)
For each time period, students will want to research/familiarize themselves with the following topics using reliable internet sources and any available books/articles and be prepared to present their findings in one of the two options below.
Who is in power? How did they get there? What kind of power do they hold?
Who has the right to vote? What do foreign relations look like? Who are enemies/allies?
Ideas and Technology
What are the ideologies at play? What forms of technology/defense does the nation
What is the size of the nation compared to previous and subsequent incarnations? What
are important natural resources? What is lacking?
How is society organized? Who holds power? Is there slavery? What about gender
relations? How are the disabled treated? LGBTQ+ persons? Do citizens have to serve in
What is the estimated GDP of the nation at the time? What are important
imports/exports? What kinds of jobs do people hold?
What kind of art is important during your time period? Who are important
artists/writers/creators? What are they creating? What does education look like? Who
gets educated? What do they learn? What languages are studied, and why?
What role, if any, does religion (e.g. Confucianism, Buddhism, Christianity,
Shamanism)play in Korea during your time period? How? Why?
The low-tech version of this research may be presented on posters/trifold boards, accompanied by oral presentations by the students of their research findings. In order for students to be able to then use this research for assessment/artistic application purposes, the boards/posters should be displayed in the classroom (or photographs of them posted on a class webpage) for student use.
The higher-tech version of this research would be for students to either create a google slides/powerpoint presentation of their research topic addressing the questions above, or for the class to create one shared google slides/powerpoint presentation that each group would add to. After oral presentations of research findings made to the class, these presentations would then be made available for all students to use to prepare for assessment.
During students’ oral presentations of either format, those watching and listening should be focusing on how they can see examples of causation (cause and effect of the various changes in styles of government), continuity and change over time, and comparison between styles of government.
In either version, students are encouraged to use charts/graphs, visuals, photographs, etc. to make their presentations visually appealing. They will also need to provide a list of sources in either MLA or APA format, according to teacher preference.
The artistic application of these projects is to create a 2-3 page single-spaced, typed film treatment (numerous examples of film treatments are available online) for a 10-16 ‘episode’ Kdrama, following one fictional family from 1900-2020 in Korea, through several generations. Once the research above has been completed and presentations made, the class would create a fictional family tree together on the board, starting with a family with a mother/father, grandparents, and children, alive in Korea in 1900. They would then ‘grow’ the tree, with fictional birth/marriage/death dates, so that by the time of the Korean War, the family would be split, with some in the North and some in the South. Then, knowing which family members they have within their assigned time period, the first group would start by writing the first film treatment, creating a fictional narrative for their part of the film between 1900-1910, being sure to emphasize how important political/social events impact the family’s life. This treatment would then be passed on to the next group, 1910-1945, who would continue the narrative of the family’s story during the period of colonial occupation (e.g. we’d ‘see’ the family having to learn Japanese, take Japanese names, etc.). The interwar/Korean War groups will need to divide the family, with some in the North and some in the South, and the treatments would be distributed to those groups accordingly. For groups with a longer time period (e.g. colonization) their treatments may be longer, with one ‘episode’ of the Kdrama covering the family’s story from 1910-1937, the second episode looking at the family during the Second World War. Ultimately, once the treatments have passed from group to group, it should end with anywhere between 10-16 ‘episodes’ in which we can see, through cinematic storytelling, the impact of politics and history on the life of a fictional Korean family during the ‘long twentieth century’ of 1900-2020.
Students would then make additional presentations to demonstrate how the history they studied would, potentially, impact the lives of everyday people, just like themselves. Finally, time permitting, screen the film Ode to My Father, to show students an actual film version of a fictional Korean family between 1950-present, and allow them to compare their own versions to this one.
Bandi. The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea. (New York: Grove Press,
Demick, Barbara. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. (New York: Spiegel and Grau,
Eckert, Carter J. et. al. Korea: Old and New - A History (Seoul: Harvard University Press, 1990).
Kim, Djun Kil. The History of Korea. (Westport, Ct: Greenwood Press, 2005).
Kim, Suki. Without You, There is No Us. (New York: Crown Publishers, 2014).
Lankov, Andrei. The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia, rev. Ed.
(New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).
Lee, Hyeonseo with David John. The Girl with Seven Names: Escape from North Korea. (London,
William Collins, 2015).
Miller, Debra A., ed. The History of Nations: North Korea (Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven
Peterson, Mark with Phillip Margulies. A Brief History of Korea. (New York: Infobase Publishing,
Shin, Kyung-Sook. The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness. (New York: Pegasus Books, 2016).
Inside North Korea - National Geographic.
Michael Palin - in North Korea.
For two documentaries, one from Frontline and one from CNN, both from 2017.
Crash Landing on You. 2019. Netflix.
Ode to My Father. 2014.
38 North. Informed Analysis about North Korea.
The Atlantic: Remembering the Korean War photo essay.
Korea Foundation website. Useful links on finding out more about Korea.
The National Atlas of Korea
The National Institute of Korean History
Website published by the Korea Foundation, 38 North, and the Korean War Veterans Digital Memorial. Background knowledge page features two documentaries (Frontline/CNN) and great print links.
After the completion of the project and presentations by students, they should be able to answer an LEQ (long essay question) on any of the following prompts:
Looking at the Korean Peninsula between 1900-2020, compare and contrast two of the following forms of government: monarchy, colony, communist dictatorship, military dictatorship, or capitalist democracy.
Looking at the Korean Peninsula between 1900-2020, analyze the causes and effects of any of the two following forms of government: monarchy, colony, communist dictatorship, military dictatorship, or capitalist democracy.
Looking at the Korean Peninsula between 1900-2020, evaluate the extent to which the following forms of government (monarchy, colony, communist dictatorship, military dictatorship, or capitalist democracy) represent a continuity and/or change over time.
§ Extracurricular Extensions
The research completed for this project could easily be used to support policy briefs and work done for Model United Nations conferences on any topics involving the Korean Peninsula between 1900-2020.
This project could also be presented to a chapter of the National History Club, a film club, or used by theatre/drama/film students as the basis for longer plays/film pieces to be produced.