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Agency unveils first authors for state textbooks

The government on Wednesday revealed two of the authors for the planned state-issued history textbooks, along with a timeline for the books’ completion, but said it “might make public” the rest of the authors “if the situation allows.”

The state-run National Institute of Korean History announced the guidelines of the history textbooks for middle and high school, as a follow-up to the final decision by the Education Ministry on Tuesday to retake sole publishing rights for secondary school history textbooks.

“We will create a correct textbook based on the Constitution and objective facts,” said NIKH chief Kim Jung-bae at a press briefing at the Seoul Government Complex, vowing to enhance the screening process to improve the quality.

The authors will encompass renowned scholars and secondary school teachers, Kim said. Some will be personally invited by the NIKH and others will submit their applications at the HIKH homepage from Wednesday to Monday.

“The focal point of the textbook dispute was related to modern and contemporary history. ... We will invite legal and military experts as well to provide a multidimensional view of history,” Kim said.

According to the provisional plans, there will be 36 authors led by six main authors who will head each part of Korean history; prehistoric times, ancient history, unified Korean kingdoms of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), modern Korea and contemporary Korea.

Accompanying Kim at the briefing was Shin Hyong-sik, a professor emeritus of Ewha Womans University and an expert in Korea’s ancient history, who will lead the ancient history section.

“I felt that the current textbooks have many problems. I took the job because I felt fact-based and clear content (in the new textbook) would allow people to approach history more easily,” Shin said.

The other confirmed main author was Choi Mong-lyong, an anthropologist and professor emeritus at Seoul National University. Choi was slated to attend the briefing, but was not present because his students were concerned about his “safety” due to unspecified reasons.

The remaining details will be set by the end of the month. The writing and screening process will continue from December to November 2016, and the books will be tested by educators in the field in December 2016. They will be printed and distributed in 2017.

Despite Education Minister Hwang Woo-yea’s pledge that everything related to textbook publication would be transparent and fully disclosed at Wednesday’s briefing, many aspects were left unanswered.

The NIKH was vague on whether or not it would reveal the names of all the authors.

“We should let the authors feel relaxed (while working), at least until the copies are finished,” said Kim, indicating it was possible that the authors’ names would not be revealed at all until the publication was nearly complete.

“It is possible that disclosing their identities will hinder their work,” said Jin Jae-gwan, the head of the NIKH’s division of history compilation.

Hwang had also vowed to place more emphasis on ancient history, but Jin said that it was “not appropriate to discuss the content beforehand,” and said that sensitive topics would be discussed with the authors.

The state-run body was also unclear on how it would address the parts that government leaders had pinpointed as “biased,” such as descriptions of North Korea and the communist state’s 2010 torpedo attack on the South Korean warship Cheonan. Jin said the concerns raised by the government “will be reflected” and it will invite “the best experts” and conduct a screening process via several committees within the organization.

While NIKH head Kim vowed to exclude the far-right or far-left individuals as authors, the organization did not elaborate on how to distinguish which scholars fell into those categories.

“This is a difficult question. ... It is something we have to consider after the authors are confirmed,” said Jin. 

By Yoon Min-sik