Jang Yeong Sil Science Garden in Busan commemorates the achievements of one of the greatest scientists of Joseon.

The Armillary Sphere is used to measure the position of the sun, moon, and five other planets.  This National Treasure  #230.

Science and Civilization in Korea Series


From the Cheomseongdae observatory in Silla to modern semiconductor technology, the history of science and civilization in Korea will be published in the Science and Civilization in Korea (SCK) series. Funded by the Ministry of Education, and directed by the Korean Studies Promotion Service under the Academy of Korean Studies, the large-scale publishing project will receive an investment of 5 billion won for 10 years from December 2010 to November 2020. The Korean Research Institute of Science, Technology and Civilization (Director Shin Dongwon) has been installed at Chonbuk National University to take charge of operations. Following the example of the Science and Civilisation in China series published by the Needham Research Institute in Cambridge, the center plans to release its own collection of science and civilization in Korea.

Targeted at both general readers and scholars, the Science and Civilization in Korea series will consist of 37 volumes – 16 on pre-modern history, 14 on modern and contemporary times, and 7 in English. The project has been proceeding in 3 phases (3+3+4 years). The first 3-year phase that commenced in December 2010 will produce 11 Korean volumes and 1 English volume. The Korean volumes focus on the following topics.

  • Donguibogam and the History of East Asian Medicine
  • History of Traditional Korean Geography
  • History of Transportation in Pre-Modern Korea
  • Science and Technology in the Sejong Era
  • Traditional Science and Western Science
  • History of Astronomy in Korea
  • The Beginnings of Modern Science and Technology
  • Korea’s Green Revolution and Modern Agriculture
  • Structure of S&T Revolution in Modern Korea
  • Establishment and Development of Research Institutes in Korea
  • History of Science and Technology Polices in Modern Korea

The Korean series will be published by Dulnyouk Publishing. Encompassing both traditional and modern history, the series attempts to challenge the stereotypical view of East Asian science and civilization that regards Western science as the yardstick, and to introduce distinct characteristics of Korea without being shadowed by Chinese ethnocentrism. This will present the world with a more accurate picture of science and civilization in Korea, and provide a model for the development of science and technology in developing countries based on the standards set by Korea in recent times. This series is expected to play a significant role in forming a balanced understanding of science and civilization not only in Korea, but to the whole of East Asia.

The followings are the topics for phase 2.

  • Bronze and Iron Technology in Ancient Korea
  • Civil Works in Ancient Korea
  • Korean Alphabet (Hangeul) and Korean Civilization
  • Women in Korean History of Science
  • Science and Religion in Korea

Topics for phase 3 have been temporarily scheduled as follows.

  • Industrial Revolution in Korea
  • Modern History of Medicine in Korea
  • History of Engineers in Korea
  • Ideological/Social/Historical Background of Science and Technology in Korea
  • History of Mathematics in Korea
  • Farming Technology and Korean Civilization
  • History of Natural History in Korea
  • Ceramic Technology and Korean Civilization
  • Printing/Papermaking and Korean Civilization
  • Military Technology and Korean Civilization
  • History of Architecture in Korea
  • History of Biology in Modern and Contemporary Korea
  • Development History of Semiconductor Technology in Korea
  • Social History of Science and Technology in Korea
  • History of Science and Civilization in Korea (to be covered in Korean)


SCK English volumes


The 7 English volumes will be prepared in English and distributed through the Cambridge University Press. This series will examine the history and characteristics of traditional and modern science in Korea. Through this comprehensive exploration, we hope to expand our knowledge of the history of science in East Asia and beyond. Traditional Korean science reached a very high level of scholarly achievement in many disciplines, including astronomy, geomancy, mathematics, and medicine. It accomplished this in conjunction with Chinese and Japanese science, but science in each of these three countries developed its own unique characteristics. The relationship between Chinese civilization and Korean science could probably be compared to that between Roman civilization and English science. During the modern period, Korea is a rare example of a destitute developing country in which science grew rapidly within a very short time, helping catapult the nation to advanced industrialized status. By understanding the history of science in Korea, a minor civilization, we can deepen and expand our understanding of the history of science in East Asia and throughout the world.

East Asian culture is often understood as a single cultural sphere with China at its center. However, even in China, many cultures have existed. Also, interchanges among China, Korea, and Japan played a substantial role in the formation and development of East Asian culture. Because of its location, Korea played a crucial role in these interchanges, as a bridge between the Chinese continent and the Japanese archipelago. Therefore, it is essential to understand Korean history of science in order to understand the history of science and civilization in East Asia.

Although Korea, China, and Japan share traditions, they also developed extensive traditions specific to each. While Chinese and Japanese traditions are relatively well known, Korean traditions are known to a much smaller degree. For example, people rarely know about Hangul’s role in the dissemination of scientific knowledge; the development of metal culture in Korea, including printing types; or Korea’s unique progress in medicine and cartography. By exploring both universal and specific aspects of the history of Korean science, this series will locate that history within the larger context of East Asian and world science.

This series adopts an approach different from that of previous books on the history of science in China and Japan. First, it avoids the sinocentric and modernistic biases. Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilization in China is a masterpiece that presents the remarkable achievements made by Chinese science and civilization in various disciplines. However, it rarely discusses how Chinese science was influenced by interactions with the sciences in neighboring countries like Korea and Japan. It also tends to judge traditional science from the perspective of modern science. We intend to discuss the history of science in Korea in the context of its interaction with science in other East Asian countries. This will enable us to organically understand East Asian civilizations within the framework of the dynamic between center and periphery rather than just offer a parallel history of science of another country. Second, we avoid a nationalistic approach. Recently, scholars of China, Japan, and Korea have tended to describe each country’s history of science as an independent entity, based on a nationalist perspective, rather than understanding it as part of the larger history of East Asian science. Instead, we will address both the universal and specific characteristics of each national history of science.

Considering the level of achievement in traditional science in Korea, the rapid development of modern science there is unsurprising. Korean science had always kept up with the level of science in China throughout the historical era and in some ways surpassed it during King Sejong’s reign. In general, although traditional Korean science was not necessarily pioneering, it disseminated, intensified, and modified scientific achievements imported from neighboring countries. It also contributed to the development of some disciplines at the “center” by providing feedback, a pattern that continued to the modern era. By focusing on ways in which science in the “periphery” contributes to the dissemination, modification, and intensification of science in the “center” our study of Korean science will also expend understanding of the history of world science.

Topics for SCK (E) have been temporarily scheduled as follows.

  • History of Science and Technology in Korea
  • History of Astronomy in Korea
  • Compressed Development of Science and Technology under the Authoritarian Regime in South Korea
  • History of the Body and Medicine in Korean Civilization
  • Source Book for the Korean History of Science
  • Mathematics and the History of Korean Civilization
  • Imperialism, Colonialism, Post-colonialism and Technoscience in Korea
  • Dynamics of Technological development in Korean industrialization
  • West and Korea in the History of Science and Technology
  • History of Korean Geomancy (to be covered in English)