Crafting Knowledge: Artisan, Officer, and the Culture of Making in Chosŏn Korea, 1392–1910

Crafting Knowledge: Artisan, Officer, and the Culture of Making in Chosŏn Korea, 1392–1910
Hyeok Hweon Kang


This dissertation examines the case of Chosŏn Korea (1392–1910) in the rise of new sciences and technologies across the early modern world (1550–1850). To date, historians have emphasized the convergence of artisanal and scholarly knowledge in the formation of new sciences and technologies during this period, especially for Western Europe. Recently, however, works by specialists of East Asia have led the global turn—i.e., investigating cases of artisanal empiricism outside Europe and appreciating them on their own terms. I build upon these works and go further with three methodological interventions: 1) a recognition of military workshops as sites of knowledge and material production, 2) a new, bottom-up understanding of craft knowledge that begins with the artisan, and 3) a global history of artifacts and knowledge that is anchored in Chosŏn Korea.
These interventions are borne out in my three-part dissertation, respectively. In the first part, “Workshop,” I demonstrate the culture of production at the arsenals and army manufactories of Chosŏn. The makers of this culture were a group of highly skilled yet socially marginalized practitioners—the artisans and their supervisors. The second part, “Epistemology,” then shifts focus to the ways of knowledge-making that arose from these practitioners. It demonstrates prototyping (kyŏnyang)—i.e., the use of drawings, models, numerical specifications, and writing to convey a craft idea—and traces how this epistemic practice formed first in the hands of the artisans, and then transformed in those of the military officers who supervised them. The third part, “Object,” continues to trace these workshops and workshop practices yet with an emphasis on the generative role of material artifacts. This final part centers in particular the global objects that entered Korea to be apprised and reconstructed by local practitioners: the matchlock gun in the 17th century. By following such objects into the Korean workshops, I show the interaction between foreign artifacts and domestic hands that entangled Korea into the material culture of the early modern world.


Hyeok Hweon Kang

Defended in


PhD defended at

Harvard University




Global Asia (Asia and other parts of the World)
East Asia
South Korea
North Korea


Art and Culture