South Korea, View of Southwest Part of Seoul in Sight of Great South Gate


This image, showing the city of Seoul, Korea, the surrounding stone wall, and the pagoda-style south gate, is one of 43 photographs of Korea taken by George Clayton Foulk between 1883 and 1886 and held at the American Geographical Society Library at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The south gate, Sungnyemun, commonly known as Namdaemun, is designated as National Treasure Number One in South Korea. Completed in 1398, the gate was one of four main gates in the defensive stone wall. Goods flowed into the city through the gate, and a busy market grew up on the adjacent streets. The wooden pagoda of the gate was severely damaged by an arsonist in 2008. After a five-year restoration, the gateway reopened in 2013. Foulk’s note on the image reads: “Southwest section of Seoul. Great South Gate in sight, view taken east of south gate and close to wall.” Foulk was a young naval officer who served as a U.S. diplomat in Korea in the 1880s. He was first sent to the country in 1883 with a Korean delegation as the only person in U.S. government service qualified to serve as an interpreter. He was not fluent in Korean, but he communicated in Japanese and quickly picked up the Korean language. Upon his arrival in Korea, Foulk undertook a 900-mile (1,450-kilometer) journey through the country by sedan chair. During this trip he kept a detailed journal and took photographs. Foulk’s trip was cut short by the unsuccessful coup d'état in the Korean capital in December 1884. Many of Foulk’s photos were destroyed during the rioting and the confused scramble for his own safety. Foulk remained in Korea as an administrator and later a naval attaché. His friendship with King Sunjong, a member of the royal family (and Emperor of Korea from 1907–10), allowed him daily visits with the king and unique opportunities to photograph Korean life. Foulk left Korea in 1887 and spent his last days in Japan as a professor of mathematics at the missionary-run Doshisha College (Doshisha University). He died in 1893, at the age of 37, while hiking with his Japanese wife and friends.

Last updated: March 22, 2016