Let Peace Be Dammed: A History of Dams and the Hydropolitics of Division in Korea
Thursday, March 15, 2018 - 4:00pm
Let Peace Be Dammed: A History of Dams and the Hydropolitics of Division in Korea

THU • MARCH 15 • 4pm

Smith Memorial Student Union 
SMSU RM 238 | Browsing Lounge

FREE and OPEN to the Public


The term “hydropolitics” usually conjures images of conflicts over water rights, and most people probably do not consider water’s uses as an actual weapon. But weaponized water was precisely the cause of a scare in South Korea in 1986. Satellite images showed the start of North Korean dam construction on the Bukhan River, a northern tributary of the Han River which runs through the heart of Seoul. Fears that North Korea could use it to release a deluge on Seoul prompted South Korean government officials to build a defensive dam, which was dubbed the Peace Dam, to deal with the threat. These fears have proven warranted, as North Korea periodically releases water downstream without warning, most recently from the Imjin River after heavy rains in 2009, killing six residents in the South.
Dams have a long and contested history in the Korean peninsula that reaches back to the period of colonization by Japan (1910-1945), and have occupied a unique space within the public imaginary, particularly in the DPRK. Dams feature prominently in North Korean iconography—the official DPRK national seal included a hydroelectric dam—as a symbol of industrial and technological might. Yet hydroelectric dams have a complex past, as many of North Korea’s dams were built during the colonial period by the Japanese imperial administration, using conscripted Korean laborers. In this talk, Professor Kim will trace the history of dams, water, and the hydropolitics of division to address the often overlooked environmental aspects of division.
Danny Kim is a Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Portland State, specializing in Korean history. Drawing from two years as a visiting researcher at Seoul National University and Waseda University, his work focuses on Korean intellectuals who traveled to Japan for higher education during Japan’s colonization of Korea (1910-1945). A new addition to PSU in 2017, his teaching areas for the 2017-2018 academic year include a transnational history of Korea through diaspora, a “long history” of the northern half of the Korean peninsula, and the history and debates over the Comfort Women issue.