Professor Marc Shell of the department of comparative literature at Harvard University visited Seoul from Dec. 16-26, 2014 to deliver a series of lectures and meet with students and experts. Professor Shell's recent book, “Islandology,” considers the cultural and rhetorical importance of islands in human history, looking at examples from ancient Greece to contemporary Denmark. The book features a section on Korea and specifically on the islands of Seoul in the Han River.
The first lecture by Professor Shell was sponsored by Kyung Hee Cyber University, the Asia Institute and WCO and considered the thorny question of islands in Northeast Asia. Professor Shell tried to treat the disputes over islands in perspective by employing a wide range of analogies from ancient times. With regards to the Dokdo dispute, Professor Shell stated that Korean resentment over Japan's actions can ironically reduce Korea to a prisoner of Japan's actions. He suggested it was necessary to break out of some accepted responses to the problem of islands.
Professor Shell drew attention to a duality in island nations like Great Britain and Japan, noting that island status “can create an inward-looking culture, but also an aggressiveness that is projected outwards.”
The talk was moderated by Dr. Bruce Carroll, lecturer of Global Perspectives on Culture at NYU Shanghai, with comments by Emanuel Pastreich, director of the Asia Institute.
The second lecture considered the cultural value of the islands in the Han River. The event was moderated by Yoojin Jung, senior researcher at the Asia Institute. This lecture built on a meeting with Mayor Park Won-soon of Seoul earlier in the day, in which the two discussed the importance of the Han River as a part of Seoul's culture.
Professor Shell also met with a group of high school students who serve as interns at the Asia Institute to answer questions about his visit. This was Professor Shell's second visit to Seoul in connection with the Asia Institute.
Professor Shell’s audience members included inquisitive admirers from Seoul’s academic community, some of his former students among them. Always the teacher, Professor Shell’s thoughtful discussions were both investigative and humorous, and he did not shy from allowing the question-and-answer sessions to go on longer than the presentations themselves.