Launch Database North Korean Posters

Korea specialist Koen de Ceuster has collected 1200 posters from North Korea, which will become available to the public on 15 June. The posters cover almost all of the history of the communist country and are therefore very valuable for researchers studying the closed-country.

Text from Universiteit Leiden

Korea specialist Koen De Ceuster has combined 1200 posters from North Korea in one database. He believes the posters are extremely valuable for researchers who want to make a more in-depth study of this closed country. The database will be launched on 15 June in Leiden.

The printed posters were produced in the period from 1952 to 2011, which means they cover almost  the whole history of the communist country. Koen De Ceuster, Assistant Professor of Korea Studies, had the 1200 posters digitised and combined in one database. ‘It is an exceptional collection that will give researchers a completely new way of studying the country.’

Private collection

All the digitised images have come from the private collection of  Willem van der Bijl, the Utrecht stamp dealer who was in the news a few years ago when he was imprisoned in North Korea. Until then, through his wide network he was able to collect not only stamps, but also numerous propaganda posters. These posters give a rare view of an extremely isolated country. Whereas some posters strongly oppose ‘imperialist enemies’ such as America and Japan, much of the material is about more everyday matters such as economic progress or public morals.

Academic potential

De Ceuster wants to carry out a further study of the posters in the coming years, together with Korea experts in the Netherlands and abroad. On 15, 16 and 17 June (see box) academics from different disciplines will gather in Leiden to discuss the academic potential of the hundreds of posters. ‘Research on North Korea continues to be largely dominated by written sources,’ says De Ceuster. ‘There is a lot of visual material  but it calls for a very different research methodology.’

Appropriate distance

De Ceuster hopes that making this photo material available will have a domino effect. ‘Research on North Korea is often dominated by the security aspects of the country, which overshadows down all other research. Too little use is made of insights from social or cultural sciences in analyses of North Korean society. In that sense, I often refer to North Korea as the last bastion of old-fashioned orientalism.  In this workshop we want to show that an in-depth visual analysis of these posters can generate some surprising insights about North Korean history, culture and society.’

Come to Leiden and study the North Korean posters

On 15, 16 and 17 June researchers from all corners of the world will come to Leiden to study this wide-ranging collection of North Korean posters. Koen De Ceuster will present the database on 15 June, after which North Korean experts from different academic disciplines will discuss the research potential of the posters. Particular attention will be paid to methodologies for reading propaganda posters. Eventually the expectation is that this study will generate new insights on North Korean society. If you are interested in attending, you can still register.

For more information on the events and registration see the site of the Leiden Asia Year.