Sunday, August 29, 2010

Book Review: Ewha Old and New: 110 Years of History 1886-1996

TitleEWHA Old and New: 110 Years of History 1886-1996
Author: Ewha Womans University Archives
Hardcover164 pages
PublisherEwha Womans University Press (October 10, 2005)
ISBN-13: 978-8973006557

For such an important university, it sure has a boring history; or so this book would lead you to believe. Although not as dynamic a history as Yonsei or long as Sungkyunkwan, Ewha does indeed deserve a better book to tell its trailblazing and controversial story. This official book printed in gloriously predictable self-appreciating pride from the university's own publishing press. Ignoring the inevitable patting on the back, it lacks character and is riddled with grammatical mistakes. Is this the supposed definitive source pulled from their own archives?

To say nothing of flair or voice, the entire book barely reads like clinging flesh to a bone; the bone being a dry timeline and the flesh being an obligatory sentence or two. The school's nearly 125 year history is reduced to following the opening of departments, dorm hall dedication dates and university presidents and their political platform. Little is said of the financial and social turmoil of the early days or the politically charged demonstration activities of the students. Taking no chance, this book leaves out all the good stuff.

It can be said that there are some nice photographs and the layout is pleasant to look at but ultimately I get the feeling that I'm reading a slapped-together non-natively translated Korean to English transcript with minnimal heart and no more information that couldn't already be found printed en masse on a trifold pamphlet found in any one of the school's building. Disappointing.

I was expecting at least a tour guide's level of insight but could not have been more bored while reading Ewha's supposedly important history. Knowing full well that the school does have a notable history worth publishing, this book does it no justice. It does have a nice cover and pictures but sorely lacks in content, though. An embarrassment that looks pretty, I suppose.

- - -

It's no secret that I like Ewha. I formally studied Korean there on and off since 2007 and I have very good memories of the campus. I studied under wonderfully talented Korean language teachers and found peaceful solitude on its beautiful campus many a day. I've been on a few campus tours and learned more and more tidbits along the way through a book or two here and there. I wished that there was more out there.
So imagine my shock and surprise when I saw this book sitting on a bookstore shelf waiting for me just days before I left Korea. I thought that I'd have a great little travel companion on that long plane ride to Texas; only to find out that it has less personality than the rock my mom keeps outside of the front door of the house I grew up in.

Oh well. Moving on.


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