Advertising Baby Boys: Racial and Gender Politics of Infant Feeding in Cold War South Korea (1950s-1960s)
Na Sil Heo - Postdoctoral Associate in East Asian Studies and Lecturer in History
In the context of the unending Korean War and the continuation of national division on the Korean peninsula, it is difficult to imagine the 1950s and early 1960s beyond images of mass death, orphanhood, and poverty. Histories of the era have been dominated by military and diplomatic histories, while recent scholarship on transnational adoption have shown how both real and imagined children and women were crucial to the US-ROK relations and the US empire during the Cold War. In this talk, I centralize childhood and consumption in Cold War Korea beyond our understanding of the iconography of the Korean “waif” and milk as food aid. Infant formula advertising, I argue, was a site of transition between the Japanese empire and the new US-centered Cold War order. Through a race and gender-conscious reading of advertisements in local newspapers, women’s magazines, and childrearing literature, I demonstrate how nursing babies were gendered and racialized in multiple ways vis-à-vis Japan and the United States.
Na Sil Heo is a historian of modern Korea, with research interests in studies of childhood, the cultural Cold War, race, and gender and sexuality. She is currently completing a book manuscript that examines childhood as a site of ideological and cultural formations in 1950s-1960s South Korea. Reading sources ranging from home floor plans and children’s literature to infant formula advertisements, her work reveals how Cold War liberalism manifested in various realms of childhood in postwar Korea.
She received her Ph.D. in East Asian Studies from the University of Toronto in 2020. Her research has been supported by fellowships and grants, including the Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania, Korean Collections Consortium of North America (KCCNA), and Dr. David Chu Scholarship in Asia Pacific Studies at the University of Toronto. Before coming to Yale, she taught Korean history at the University of Toronto and the University of Pennsylvania.
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