Korean Popular Culture in Digital Humanities

Crystal S. Anderson, PhD

Elon University

This past spring, I attended my first THATCamp at the University of Virginia.  I was nervous. Although I’ve been a humanities person practically all my life, I was unsure if the collaborative projects I manage on Hallyu (Korean wave) popular culture on the Internet qualified as a digital humanities enterprise.  After attending THATCampVA,  I realized that my projects embraced  several central elements of digital humanities.    

I manage several collaborative digital humanities projects under the umbrella known as KPK: Kpop Kollective.  These projects aggregate and curate digital material related to post-1990 Korean popular culture, including images, video and information on artists, groups, creative personnel, and agencies.  As the KPK mission statement states, “[KPK’s] members study Korean popular culture on the Internet from a global perspective.  KPK’s mission is to educate the public and make analysis of Hallyu accessible for everyone.”

The collaborative projects currently involve the WordPress KPK Blog and the KPK YouTube Channel.  In other words, we are building something as well as engaged in ways of making sense of the thing we build. This is central to digital humanities, for Matthew K. Gold states, “Ultimately, what sets DH apart from many other humanities fields is its methodological commitment to building things as a way of knowing” (69). Constructing databases and collections to capture Hallyu through its cultural production is part of what we mean when we say, “We Do Hallyu!”

This work is collaborative, so KPK regularly puts out calls for individuals to join its ranks, regardless of skill level or geographic location.  We offer training, mentorship and a lively community for discussion.  Our digital work allows us to work with individuals across the United States and around the world.  Such collaboration is key to KPK and digital humanities.  Lisa Spiro notes that “a digital humanist will typically participate as part of a team, learning from others and contributing to an ongoing dialogue.  By bringing together people with diverse expertise, collaboration opens up new approaches to tackling a problem” (25).

The members of KPK includes a range of individuals, including academics, current and matriculated undergraduates, and even high school students. We recognize that expertise comes in various forms when it comes to Korean popular culture: industry, critics, but most often the fans themselves, who practice their own version of aggregation and curation on websites and Facebook pages and  in YouTube videos and forums.  This means that the price of admission isn’t a degree, or a nationality, but knowledge.

L to R: Regina Oldham (Friend of KPK), Sandra Park (Friend of KPK), Nunee (KPK Member), CeeFu (KPK Director), JaeHoon (KPK Member); Photo Credit: Kaetrena Davis Kendrick

Because the KPK projects utilize the talents of individuals located across the country and around the world to study digital materials, we make much use of web-based tools:  Google Docs, Wikispaces, Anymeeting, Facebook Secret Groups to communicate and share information; Screencast-O-Matic to train, and Prezi to present our work at conferences. Our collections utilize web-based publishing platforms like WordPress and Omeka.  As Kathleen Fitzpatrick notes, “tools and technical standards to support the production of such archives have been another key source of digital humanities work” (13).

Where did I find out about Omeka? At THATCampVa!  I also found out about other tools that digital humanists use in their work through portals like DiRT, and the more recent Bamboo DiRT.  We are in the process of migrating our current collection of profiles of Korean artists and groups, currently housed on a WordPress blog, to an Omeka site, which gives us much more flexibility in presenting and curating the material.  The site is still under construction, but you can see an example of what we’ve been able to do in Omeka here.

These resources also allow KPK to function in a public way. I have always envisioned KPK as an open social-intellectual enterprise across all of its platforms.   Spiro notes that “openness operates on several levels in the digital humanities, describing a commitment to the open exchange of ideas, the development of open content and software and transparency.”  Such “openness allows scholars to reach larger audiences than the few who read academic journals” (24).  KPK projects bring the intellectual to the popular and the popular to the academic.  Matthew Kirschenbaum contextualizes such openness as a response to what some see as restrictions placed on scholars by institutions on faculty scholarship:

Faculty members increasingly demand the right to retain ownership of their own scholarship–meaning their own labor–and disseminate it freely to an audience apart from or parallel with more traditional structures of academic publishing, which in turn are perceived as outgrowths of dysfunctional and outmoded practices surrounding peer review, tenure, and promotion (9).

See how  KPK rolls at our group presentation at KPOPCON12, the first collegiate Kpop conference at University of California, Berkeley:

Given that the KPK projects are bona-fide digital humanities enterprises, we intend to engage more in our new academic community!


“Day of DH: Defining the Digital Humanities – Matthew Gold.”  In Debates in the Digital Humanities. Ed. Matthew K. Gold (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), 67-71.

Fitzpatrick, Kathleen.  “The Humanities, Done Digitally.” In Debates in the Digital Humanities. Ed. Matthew K. Gold (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), 12-15.

Kirschenbaum, Matthew.  “What is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?” In Debates in the Digital Humanities. Ed. Matthew K. Gold (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012),  3-12.

Spiro, Lisa. ” ‘This is Why We Fight’: Defining the Value of the Digital Humanities.”  In Debates in the Digital Humanities. Ed. Matthew K. Gold (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), 16-35.

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