No-Turkey Thanksgivings

No, this blog post is not about trendy non-turkey Thanksgiving dinners. Many of us may automatically associate turkey with American Thanksgiving. But there are many other countries around the world that celebrate the season of harvest with their own traditions and without that particular bird. Although celebrations differ in many ways, one of the key concepts of all of the holidays introduced below is giving thanks.

Korea: Ch’usŏk

Ch’usŏk or Hangawi is a three-day celebration of harvest and thanksgiving. It is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar. During this time, the moon is at its fullest and brightest. Because this holiday follows the lunar calendar, the celebration’s date changes every year on the solar, or Gregorian, calendar. Therefore, Ch’usŏk was most recently celebrated on September 26th, 2015. People travel across Korea to reunite with their families, pay respect to their ancestors, and to enjoy each others’ company with good food and games.

One of the traditional foods associated with this holiday is songpyeon (see below). Families gather to make this rice cake filled with different fillings such as sweet sesame seed, mung bean, and red bean paste. It is said that whoever makes the best-looking songpyeon will have the prettiest daughter. Want to give Korean holiday cuisine a try? Check out Traditional Food: A Taste of Korean Life from our library!

Picture of Songpyeon

Picture of songpyeon, crescent-moon rice cakes. Songpyeon is a special Ch’usŏk delicacy filled with a paste made of chestnuts, jujube, sesame seeds, and red beans.
Attribution: Culture and Information Service

Historically, this holiday was celebrated with the playing of a traditional wrestling sport called sirrum, as well as with a version of tug-of-war, tightrope performances, and a dance known as ganggangsullae, or “hand-in-hand under the moon.” Although these activities have not disappeared, it is now more common to watch them on television than to do them in person.

Check out Annual Customs of Korea: Notes on the Rites and Ceremonies of the Year from our library to find out about other Korean holidays and rituals!


India: Pongal Festival

Pongal is a harvest festival celebrated in Tamil Nadu, a state in southern India. The holiday has been celebrated for more than a thousand years and is considered one of the most significant Hindu festivals. The four-day celebration gives thanks to nature for a fruitful year of grain, turmeric, and sugar cane. It falls in mid-January and each day includes activities filled with traditions and rituals.

The first day is called Bhogi and on this day people throw away and burn old belongings and clothes. The act of burning signals the start of a new life cycle. People prepare for the celebration by cleaning and decorating their houses with painted kolams, or designs drawn on the floor using multi-colored rice.

Painted kolam on the ground

Painted kolam on the ground. 
Attribution: Thamizhpparithi Maari

The second day is called Pongal or Thai Pongal and is celebrated with rituals such as letting fresh milk boil over a vessel. The name of the overall holiday festival, Pongal, means “boil over” or “overflow,” and is derived from this ritual. People continue the day by eating food and visiting each others’ homes.

Pongal ritual- fresh milk boiling over the vessel

Fresh milk boiling over in a vessel. 
Attribution: Thagadooran

On the third day, or Mattu Pongal, colored beads, bells, flowers, and ears of corns are tied around the necks of cows and worshiped. As the cattle enter the village center, sounds from the bells signal villagers to race their animals against each other. The festivities continue on to the fourth day, also known as Knau Pongal. Women perform the ritual of leaving cleaned turmeric leaves on the ground. The leaves are topped with leftover milk from the boiling of the day before, rice – both colored and ordinary –  sugar cane, and plantains before participants take part in ritual bathing. They then gather and wish for prosperity for their households.

Interested in finding more about this holiday and other Hindu holidays? Check out Hindu Feasts, Fasts and Ceremonies from our library.


Ghana: Homowo Festival

Homowo festival

A Ga traditional leader sprinkling food to signify abundance.
Attribution: Online Today

Homowo, sometimes called “Yam Festival”, is usually celebrated during the month of August. The word homowo can be translated as “to hoot at hunger,” which explains the origins of the festival. It originally began with the Ga people fighting against great famine through vigorous food cultivation, resulting in a great harvest. The festival remembers the period by celebrating the season’s harvest through cooking food using yams, one of the major crops of the country.  

The festival is signaled a month before with the banning of drumming and other noise-making in the Greater Accra area. The festival proper begins when a priest sprinkles a self-made concoction onto the royal family to fend off evil spirits and for good health. 

A special meal, kpokpoi, made from maize and palm-nut soup, is served. This food is then taken to the chief for blessing before the meal. The priest sprinkles the food on the ground to give thanks to the gods. The king presents participants with his annual speech and the chief priest prays for the people. Drumming and dancing resume and people enjoy the festival. Throughout the holiday, participants are encouraged to remember that with determination and willpower, anything is possible, just as their ancestors once proved by overcoming famine. More information about the festival can be found in The Ga Homowo, available through our library.


There are many other countries and cultures not mentioned here that celebrate the harvest season with thanksgiving. Here are some print resources available for you to check out and learn more about these holidays around the world:

You can also contact the subject/area specialists at the International and Area Studies Library to dig deeper into holiday customs and celebrations. The University’s cultural houses on Nevada Street hold regular cultural celebrations and events. All are welcome! For more posts like these and for other international information, follow our IAS Facebook page.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving

Attribution: AForestFrolic


Moving About: A Taste of International Dance

To dance is to move with awareness, with harmony in relationship to music, with other people’s movements or with emotions. It is moving by embodying and enacting traditions, rituals, and ways of thought, while allowing these traditions to evolve each time the dance is practiced and performed. But dancing is also making statements, sharing memories, challenging one’s own and others’ assumptions. Dancing enhances awareness, perception, and allows entering into contact with forms of movement, rhythms, and ways of thinking with which you are unfamiliar. I love dance and dancing and I practice some contemporary dance myself, so I’d like to share some information about how people dance around the world throughout time.

Not being an expert in international forms of  traditional and modern dance in spite of my interest in it,  let me take a moment to recognize those who helped orient me in my research. Among them were friends, colleagues, and librarians. Our South Asian Studies Librarian, Mara Thacker, who is both a lover and practitioner of dance, was especially helpful. In this post, I will address some dances from some parts of the world that may yet be unknown many people. While not comprehensive, this is an informational glimpse of how dancing happens in different cultures and in different contexts, both historical and situational.

Spotlight: Mexico

Have you heard of the Mexican Son Jarocho? This beautiful dance style originates from the Mexican states of Veracruz, Oaxaca, and Tabasco.  As with most traditional Latin American dances, it blends traditions from multiple cultural backgrounds. The particular case of Son Jarocho contains influences from indigenous traditions, Afro-Caribbean influences, and Spanish traditions, mainly from Andalucía. It is danced in couples and one of the main characteristics is the stamping that both male and female dancers perform with special shoes. In fact, this stamping is not only a dance step, but it also becomes a main source of percussion that leads the rest of the instruments. You can find a similar style of stamping in Spanish Fanangos. See the video below for a folkloric, ballet-style performance of Son Jarocho.

Mexican Dance Forms: A Bibliography with Annotations” is a book compiling some major traditional Mexican dances. These are other interesting resources you can find at our library if you want to know a little more about one of the many dance styles in Mexico.

But Mexican dancing has much more than folk dances like Son Jarocho and Jarabe Tapatío. Mexico also has one of the strongest traditions of contemporary dance in all of Latin America. Delfos Danza Contemporánea  is a renowned dance company that offers education, residencies, and has a large performance background where their local experience dialogues with international tendencies in dance and world-class training.

Image credit: Frontera arts

A promotional image from the Delfos dance company in Mexico. Image credit: Frontera Arts

Spotlight: South America

To stay, for a moment, in Latin America, what do you think of when thinking of Latin American dances? Salsa, bachata, merengue. Correct. But what about the southern parts of Latin America? Tango! Correct! Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay also have rich varieties of traditional dances but sadly we will not be able visiting them here. However, in other countries from the South, there is a strongly rooted tradition of gauchos, male “cowboys,” found in contiguous regions of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. The dances they perform have slight variations in these three countries, but in general, the gauchos’ practice with moving cattle around by foot or riding horses evolved into a very vibrant dance involving vigorous foot stamping. In Argentina, one of the traditional gaucho dances from the south of the country is called malambo.  Some versions feature the skillful handling of boleadoras or bolas, stones tied with robes initially used by indigenous peoples for hunting, and then adapted for cattle as well.  More modern and acrobatic versions demonstrate an evolved use of the boleadoras for special spectacles.

Photo Credit: IMG Artists, Che Malambo

Male dancers swing their boleadoras, stones attached to ropes, in a display of South American dance. Photo Credit: IMG Artists, Che Malambo

Argentina is one of the leading countries for contemporary dance in Latin America. According to La danza moderna argentina cuenta su historia : historias de vida (roughly, Modern Argentine Dance Tell Its Story: Stories of Life), its practice in that country started in the early 1940s. Currently Argentina is one of the few countries in Latin America that has a state-funded, national contemporary dance company “Compañía Nacional de Danza Contemporánea” (National Company of Contemporary Dance.) Check out a great piece by the company below.

Photo credit: Compañía Nacional de Danza Contemporánea, Argentina, “Río conmigo”

Dancers perform “Río conmigo.” Photo credit: Compañía Nacional de Danza Contemporánea, Argentina

To wrap up with Latin America, here is a list of interesting resources including books, films and audio recordings that are relevant for those interested in how people move across this region.

Spotlight: Korea

Now let’s travel to East Asia, a region that is entirely new to me in terms of dance. I’ve learned more about its dance traditions though my very dear Korean friends at UIUC and some independent readings. For starters, Korean folk Dance reveals the many, varied influences that come together in Korean traditional dance, including elements from other countries and varied religions. Different moments in Korean history also display an impact on expression, not to mention varied contexts like communal agrarian contexts, religious celebrations and entertainment.

This book addresses Korean dances from as early as 200 BC until present day, when folk dance intentionally and actively preserves cultural heritage. In fact, certain dances from the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) and Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) are currently protected by a cultural law issued in 1962. After Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945) and the strong influence of Western civilization after 1945, traditional Korean dance was in danger of disappearing. In this context, these dances officially became known as Important Intangible Cultural Heritage, a category that brought about legislation to preserve and train people in each dance form. This is the case for Seungmu, the monks’ dance, a type of folk dance performed by professional entertainers.

Photo credit: Lee Byoung-ok ; [translator Cho Yoon-jung]. "Korean folk dance", Seoul, Korea : Korea Foundation, c2008

Seungmu, the Monks’ Dance. Photo credit: Lee Byoung-ok ; [translator Cho Yoon-jung]. “Korean folk dance”, Seoul, Korea : Korea Foundation, c2008

Other Korean traditional dances are Bucheachum -or fan dance-, a stunning group dance performed by female dancers wearing bright hanbok dresses and using fans for displaying several figures as butterflies and flowers. This dance’s origins are associated with shaman and it is currently performed in varied celebrations. Also, the Ganggangsullae or harvest dance, practiced as a fertility ritual in the southwestern part of the Republic of Korea, is also performed during the Chuseok holidays across the country. This dance is  included in UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Check out some others here.

Now, going beyond folk dance, Korea currently has a rich development of modern and contemporary styles. Through Contemporary Dance Scenes of Korea, I discovered another angle of movement in that country. Modern and contemporary dance in Korea have experienced rich growth in recent years, which has included the reflection about a search for Korean identity, dialogues between traditional movements and contemporary experimentation, inner exploration, dialogues between eastern and western aesthetics, and an intense search for Korean symbols of femininity. Modern dance has been particularly important for current artists who faced violence and repression after the Korean War. As recently as 1978, only 22 performances took place in Korea, and from those, only three were contemporary dance and the other three were ballet. Currently, there is a National Contemporary Dance Company, which has an interesting global reach. Dance, therefore, has served for sharing memory, making statements and coming up with creative proposals about contemporary Korean culture, in dialogue with its recent and ancient past. Of course we cannot ignore perhaps the most popular dance form among contemporary Korean youth: K-Pop!! Check out some moves from this dance style.

Photo credit: Cho, Tong-hwa, and Kim, Kyŏng-ae, "Contemporary dance scenes of Korea", Seoul, Korea : Korean Information Service, 2001.

Photo credit: Cho, Tong-hwa, and Kim, Kyŏng-ae, “Contemporary dance scenes of Korea”, Seoul, Korea : Korean Information Service, 2001.

Spotlight: West Africa

Let’s jump to another continent now. Let’s talk about West African dance. Similar to what occurs with other cultural traditions, dance in West Africa developed and evolved as a very important component of communal life. As a main feature, West African dance is highly energetic, involving vigorous and simultaneous movements of the head, arms, legs and feet. Even with this feature, there is still a great variety in terms of genre including village and ballet.

In the case of dance from Guinea, village dancing is practiced in a circle where the community gathers around  live drumming as a core component of the dance and community members enter and exit the circle at their will to improvise a dance. Other community members participating in the dance accompany the performance by clapping and cheering. The percussive instruments used for this dance style are the djembe and then a family of drums called the dununs.

Photo Credit:

West African dancers energetically perform on stage. Photo Credit: The University City District on the Philly Loves Drums website

Instead of the dancer responding to the drums, in this dance style, the main drummer or djembe soloist tries to follow the dancers’ feet to accent their movements and simultaneously maintain the tempo.

Photo credit: Renee Rushing Photography

A West African dancer is featured, jumping in mid-air. Photo credit: Renee Rushing Photography

Mara Thacker provided a good deal of information about these styles: “Ballet style is choreographed…(it) has a different set up to the drums and the drummers will give a musical cue called “breaks” to signal to the dancers during a choreography….The dununs have three drums, the largest bass drum is the dundunba, the middle is the sangban, and the smallest is the kenkeni. In ballet style, the three are usually played as a set, which, in village style, each is played alone along with a cowbell that is attached to the top of the drum. There are other types of drums and instruments that are played, including the balafon which is much like a xylophone and the cora which is a stringed instrument.” Mara also highlighted that one of the most commonly taught African styles in the U.S. is “lamban“. Here is another lamban performance you can see.

To see more village style dancing, check out this documentary about Chuck Davis’ travels. Davis is a renowned African American dancer and choreographer who visited West Africa, observing, learning and participating in local dances and other cultural traditions. It is available through the Alexander Street database. For those interested in further reading about West African dance and percussion, West African Drumming and Dance in North American Universities: An Ethnomusicological Perspective is recommended.

And here is a piece of great news: You can practice West-African dance here at C-U! Mara and other local West African Dance enthusiasts have put together a practice space called the C-U West African Drum and Dance Collective, where Djibril Camara is the local teacher. The group organizes a yearly festival called “The Midwest Mandeng.” Thanks to them, every September master drum and dance instructors from Guinea, Mali, and Senegal come to Urbana-Champaign to teach workshops and give demonstrations. Mark your calendar for next year!

As I have mentioned with the other dances above, there is a very interesting evolution of contemporary dance in West Africa that dialogues between traditional dance and international modern styles. Unlike most contemporary and modern dancers from the U.S. and other western countries, it is common that modern dancers from different African countries are trained first in traditional dance and then they train in other dance forms and techniques. Afrique Danse Contemporaine (Contemporary African Dance) beautifully presents the trajectory of Salia Sanou, renowned dancer and choreographer form Burkina Faso, where he makes a clear statement on the relevance of African voices in the global contemporary dance scene. Here is Poussières de sang, a stunning performance by him in collaboration with Seydou Boro, another choreographer from the same country.

DOUBALEY (LE MIROIR). Photo credit: Mouvements Perpétuets, Direction artistique Salia Sanou

A dancer performs Salia Sanou’s Doubaley (Le miroir). Photo credit: From Mouvements Perpétuels

All of this is just a little taste of a larger African dance scene. Find more in an engaging documentary called African Dance: Sand, Drum and ShostakovichWe have a vast variety of library resources related to all types of African dance in general and West African dance in particular.

Thank you for joining me in the exploration of this art form. If you are as excited about dance as I am and want to keep reading, watching and listening, check out the large amount resources available at different library locations about folk, modern, and classical dance, among others. Especially check out the Music and Performing Arts Library Dance Research Resources.

You can also contact our Dance at Illinois department on campus where Faculty have extensive experience about varied international styles, including several professors interested in African influences on contemporary dance. Also, the dance department annually invites guest artists from diverse origins. This year, guest artists bring works influenced by traditions from China, Taiwan, and Israel.  You can also follow the schedule of events at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts which is always showcasing events of interest. You can also ask Mara, our South Asian Studies Librarian about Indian dance! She has a lot to share. For more information and posts like these, follow the International and Area Studies Facebook page.

Cultural Heritage As Symbols of Global Peace in Times of Conflict

Turn the World Blue

Monuments around the globe, lit blue on October 24, 2015

Since the early twentieth century, “heritage” has consistently emerged as a cultural specific response to international politics, and as a practice of memory. Heritage studies scholar Rodney Harrison, in Understanding the Politics of Heritage, describes heritage as an idea that emerges from the recognition of a potential or real threat to an object. When defined by its vulnerability, heritage necessitates protection measures. Because the condition of vulnerability is implied in the enacting of protective measures (whether actually needed or not), heritage is characterized as being rather weak. However, this stance is being contested today, as architectural heritage is gaining a more active role in fighting terror and conflict.

On October 24, 2015 more than 200 monuments, buildings, museums, bridges and other landmarks in nearly 60 countries were lit up with blue light to promote the United Nations’ message of peace, development, and human rights for all. Also as a means to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, the Turn the World UN Blue campaign represents a symbolic commitment to unite global citizens, promoting a sense of peace in the world. The long list of participating landmarks that went blue that day is an example of peoples throughout the world joining hands to fight conflict.

In the wake of war and hate, heritage has brought people together and given them hope for peace. It has been well publicized that the 1,500-year-old Bamiyan Buddhas suffered great destruction at the hands of the Taliban in 2001. The sandstone Buddhas, towering over 170 feet in the Bamiyan valley of the Hindukush Mountain range of Afghanistan, came to represent the complex inter-relations of religion, economics, and politics. Witness to a landscape that sustains centuries of passers-by in the forms of monks, merchants, and armies, the Buddhas embodied the coming together of a world culture, and their destruction caused a collective international outrage. The Buddhas are part of the UNESCO World Heritage List as the Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley. This makes the site not just a representation of a certain religion or nation, but the heritage of a collective, and thus an inspiration for the world to come together to take on the responsibility of fighting irrational destruction meted out in the name of religion and/or politics.

One of the two Bamiyan Buddhas recreated as 3D light projection [Credit: AFP] Read more at: Follow us: @ArchaeoNewsNet on Twitter | groups/thearchaeologynewsnetwork/ on Facebook

One of the two Bamiyan Buddhas recreated as 3D light projection [Credit: AFP]

More recently, a Chinese couple, Zhang Xinyu and Liang Hong, gifted the technology of projecting 3-D laser illumination to the Afghan people. On June 7, 2015 they projected images of the Buddhas, filling up the voids left behind after the destruction. The Buddhas came back to assume their towering status in the Hindukush Mountains, bringing people together in their shared associations, even if for just one day. This gesture serves three purposes: it allows heritage to take active role in combating terrorism, it sustains living memories of local and global communities, and it also subtly reminds people of the horrors of hatred. Llewelyn Morgan’s book The Buddhas of Bamiyan excavates the layers of meaning that these vanished wonders hold for a fractured Afghanistan. Also on this theme, poet and environmental activist Gary Snyder wrote the poem “After Bamiyan,” collected in the book Dangers on Peaks, in which he responds to the experience of global conflict and personal pain by reminding readers of the values of continuity, art, and compassion.

Even more recently, in August 2015, the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, blew up a Roman temple in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, another World Heritage Site. The international response to this incidence was stronger. The chief of UNESCO, the UN’s cultural agency, described Islamic State’s destruction as a “war crime.” Certain groups voiced their concern for a change in international law that would empower protections of cultural property. Current laws, for example that of the United Nations’ 1954 Hague Convention, (“Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict”) are helpless when non-state groups decide to destroy monuments. Therefore, a call for reforming the laws to at least allow for the prevention future destruction is now at hand. The Hague Convention of 1954 prohibits using monuments and sites for military purposes and harming or misappropriating cultural property in any way. This was articulated after World War II, when representatives from the European countries realized the urgency of reconstructing historical knowledge and retrieving objects of cultural memory lost or destroyed during the war. Buildings are considered the most vulnerable objects to be destroyed, symbolizing the rampant obliteration of cultural memory because of war.

An ongoing project of bringing 3d cameras to sites in conflict zones highlights the possibility that vast scale community efforts can become a form of resistance against heritage destruction. The Institute for Digital Archaeology has devised an inexpensive 3-D digital camera to extensively document conflict-affected monuments with the help of local communities. The institute aims to distribute 5,000 cameras by December 2015 and has partnered with UNESCO to do so. These 3-D images could be used to build replicas of destroyed monuments, perhaps using 3-D printers. The documentation could also be used as evidence for investigations against plundering and destruction.

In 2014, George Clooney released his movie The Monuments Men. The movie is loosely based on Robert M. Edsel’s book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History. The film narrates real events from projects undertaken by the Monuments Men Foundation, which was established in 1943 to help protect cultural property in war-affected areas during and after World War II. The group was comprised of about 400 service members who worked with military forces to safeguard historic and cultural monuments from war damage. When the war ended, they worked on finding works of art stolen by the Nazis and returning them to their respective owners. The movie persistently raised an unsettling question: Is a human life worth more than art? What is made clear is that the destruction of art and artifacts represents an attack on history, identity and civilization. This film addresses the intricacies of that question in a more nuanced manner, arguing that art represents the human spirit—just as valuable as human life if not more—in times of war.

The Monuments Men. UIUC Call Num: D810.A7 E23 2009

The Monuments Men. UIUC Call Num: D810.A7 E23 2009

UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) was established in 1945. In the 1950s and 1960s, UNESCO was instrumental in developing a framework for international collaboration in safeguarding the cultural heritage of humanity in the form of international recommendations and conventions, in order to provide a framework of reference for legislators and heritage managers. UNESCO’s Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage 1972 was adopted on the principle that sites of outstanding universal value to all mankind should be protected and passed on to future generations, acting as a source of peace and sustainability. It advocated heritage as a “powerful tool for peace,” which must be protected. The 1972 Convention is a landmark, as it brings the concept of “world heritage” onto the global stage and equates the loss of any specific cultural or natural heritage with the loss of world heritage. With the emergence of the idea of world heritage, there emerged a shared sense of belonging and protection for symbols of identity. In 1978, UNESCO announced its first World Heritage List. Today, that list contains 1031 properties.

UNESCO World Heritage by Karte: NordNordWest, Lizenz: Creative Commons by-sa-3.0 de. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 de via Commons -

UNESCO World Heritage by Karte [Credit: Creative Commons]

To learn more about cultural heritage and current international politics, please visit the exhaustive collection at UIUC Library, which ranges from books, maps, movies, 2D art, and much more.

Yes, we’re from North Korea!

As a 1.5 generation Korean-American, two questions I get asked over and over are “Where are you from and where are you really from?” Upon hearing my answer as “I’m originally from Korea,” the next question follows “Are you from North or South Korea?” Almost all Koreans or Korean descendants living in the U.S. are from South Korea as it is exceptionally difficult to travel outside of North Korea as a North Korean. In fact, it is reported that there are just 186 North Korean refugees in the United States. “Refugee” is one of the only status markers North Koreans can hold to maintain any legal residency in the U.S.  Compare that figure of under 200 to an estimated 622,849 South Koreans or people of South Korean origin.

To start, South and North Korea are the only actively divided nations in the world.


The Map of South and North Korea Image: Patrick Mannion.

The infographic below displays some of the great differences and divergences between the two Koreas.

North Korea v South Korea graphic by Mark McCormick for the Guardian Mark McCormick/Guardian

Infographic comparing North Korea and South Korea – graphic by Mark McCormick for the Guardian Mark McCormick/Guardian

Also, an article published in The Guardian, “South v North Korea: how do the two countries compare? Visualised” is a good starting point for finding out more about these countries’ dualities.

So, you now understand that it is extremely difficult for anything associated with North Korea to be available in the U.S. However, the collection of books I’ll introduce has been published in North Korea and was acquired by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library.

Why is the collection important?

North Korea outranks many countries in various areas such as:

Since their divide in 1953, the two Koreas have taken separate paths. With opposing ideologies, the Koreas now differ in many aspects. The languages used on each side of the border have evolved and the economies have shifted, too. For these reasons, looking at South Korea to find more about the current state of North Korea may not yield much fruit.

Because North Korea is effectively closed off to other parts of the world, research on current issues in the country and its people are extremely challenging. However, one can learn a lot about a country by reading its books. That is why our North Korean collection is important in researching 21st century North Korea.

All of the books in North Korea are published by government agencies. By researching these print materials, one can get a glimpse of topics that were allowed to be exposed to the general public.

Click the image below to browse through the entire North Korean collection housed in our library system.

North Korean Collection at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library

A lib guide for the North Korean Collection at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library. Click on the image to browse the collection.


Interested in how North Koreans view history? Browse through the North Korean history collection. The collection features various time frames from the Kojosŏn era to current times. The collection will help you get closer to what the people of North Korea accept as the truth and you can compare it with the historical timeline of the nation’s events.

North Korean Leaders

We cannot talk about the North Korean collection without mentioning the country’s leaders. The Kim Dynasty has been at the country’s helm ever since the birth of the nation. Do check out our collection of biographies and speeches given by these leaders.

Link to Speeches of North Korean Heads of State LibGuide

Speeches of North Korean Heads of State from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library

Resources in English

Are you interested in finding out more information about North Korea but your Korean language skills are less than perfect? The library has plenty of print and audiovisual materials that can assist you! Here are some of the titles:


Literature is one of many communicative forms used to inculcate North Koreans, young and old, with particular political views of the government. North Koreans learn from an early age that protecting their country means fighting against U.S. and Western invasion. Some of the titles listed below tell heroic stories of the people of North Korea and its leader sacrificing themselves to defend their nation.

Catalog Record of Samch'ŏlli kangsan

Samch’ŏlli kangsan (삼천리 강산)- The Land of Three Thoursand-ri, part of Immortal History Series from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library

Catalog link to Suryŏng hyŏngsang munhak

Suryŏng hyŏngsang munhak (수령 형상 문학) Literature for Shaping a Chieftain Figure from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library.


Sixty-two years have passed since the armistice was signed. Throughout those years, the language of the two Koreas have diverged. Although mutually intelligible, one can readily recognize the differences in accents and word choices. Many linguistic changes have arrived, especially to South Korea, due to globalization which has caused the gap to grow even larger.

South Korean-North Korean Translator

With the rise of North Korean defectors settling in Korea, language became one of the rising issues. Click on the image to watch the video. From the Dream Touch for All Channel on YouTube.

As seen in the video above, software applications that bridge the gap between South and North Koreans have been developed. Also, numerous print materials that address the Korean languages are available throughout the University catalog.

North Korean – South Korean dictionaries published in South Korea

Cho, Chae-su. Nam-Pukhan Mal Pigyo Sajŏn: Chungguk, Yet Soryŏn Chiyŏk Tongpʻodŭl ŭi Uri Mal ŭl Pʻohamhan Pigyo ŏhwiron. Sŏul : Tʻodam, 1995. Print.

Pukhan ŏhwi Sajŏn. Sŏul Tʻŭkpyŏlsi : Yŏnhap Nyusŭ, 2002. Print.

Yun, Ku-byŏng., eds. Pori Kugŏ Sajŏn. Kyŏnggi-do Pʻaju-si : Pori, 2008. Print.

North Korean – South Korean dictionaries published in North Korea

Ch’oe, Ch’ang-ho., eds. Chosŏnŏ Match’umpŏp P’yŏllam. [P’yŏngyang] : Kwahak Paekkwa Sajŏn Chonghap Ch’ulp’ansa, 1994. Print.

Kim, Pŏm-ju. Uri Mal ŏhwi ŭi Ttŭt Kwa Yurae. [P’yŏngyang] : Kŭmsŏng Ch’ŏngnyŏn Ch’ulp’ansa, 2010. Print

Catalog record to Uri mal ŏhwi ŭi ttŭt kwa yurae

Uri mal ŏhwi ŭi ttŭt kwa yurae (우리 말 어휘의 뜻과 유래) Meanings and Origins of Our Words from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library

Yi, Hyŏng-t’ae.Yu, Ŭn-jong.Chosŏn Tongŭiŏ, Panŭiŏ, Tongŭmŏ Sajŏn. [P’yŏngyang] : Kwahak Paekkwa Sajŏn Chonghap Ch’ulp’ansa, 1993. Print.

Catalog record to Chosŏn tongŭiŏ, panŭiŏ, tongŭmŏ sajŏn

Chosŏn tongŭiŏ, panŭiŏ, tongŭmŏ sajŏn (조선 동의어, 반의어, 동음어 사전) Dictionary of Synonyms, Antonyms, and Homophones from the University at Urbana-Champaign Library

Other Non-fiction books

All areas of life in North Korea have their corresponding ideologies of the “Dear Leader” and government deeply embedded within them. One example appears in The Encyclopedia of Dendrobium Kimilsungia, Kim Il-song’s flower, which is also available in Chinese.


Kim Il-sŏng hwa chŏnsŏ (김일성 화전서) Encyclopedia of Dendrobium Kimilsungia from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library

If you are interested in further study of the North Korean collection, feel free to contact the International and Area Studies Library at Also, for more posts like these, follow our Facebook page.