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President's Blog: North Korean Defectors

ernst_978-1-4766-2809-7[Ed. note: the below is the first entry in a new blog feature, which will include brief thoughts and commentary by McFarland president Rhonda Herman about the publishing industry, scholarship, current events, and topics covered in our books and journals.]

One of the interesting aspects of my interesting job is the eclectic nature of the material that will cross my desk in a week.

This week’s high point relates to North Korea.  For most folks, North Korea is the rogue country that manages to get a disproportionate amount of news coverage. Since we publish an academic journal (the only one!) on the topic, I regularly get a dose of information about North Korea at an entirely different focal length.

Our editorial partner for North Korean Review, Yonsei University (Seoul, South Korea), hosted a first-ever conference, gathering scholars with an interest in North Korea, in the fall of 2015. How does one study the most closed society and most private country on earth? Some of the conversations at the conference involved brainstorming novel ways to glean information.

Several of the articles in the current issue of North Korean Review came out of the conference. One article impressed me in particular.

The Back Story: Beginning in the early 2000s, North Korea required all males to work in its state-run factories. Those factories were not reliable about payment. Their wives were forced to become resourceful to support their family, selling anything they could get their hands on through black markets that were not sanctioned, but were tolerated, by the government.

The Theory: Two scholars, Maximilian Ernst and Roman Jurowetzki, teamed up to analyze satellite data as a means of predicting where black market activity took place. They looked at the concentration of light at night along the Chinese border and then studied women defections by location to see if there was a correlation. (There was.)

Smart people using new technology yielding surprising details about mysterious North Korea!

—Rhonda Herman, October 7, 2016

Read the full article from Kindle or the Google Play Store, or subscribe to North Korean Review.

rh-headshotFollow Rhonda Herman on Twitter (@RGBHerman).