The image is very familiar to us: a scholar overcoming Cold War barriers to study a land where travel, let alone research, is impossible; their diligence paying off by locating materials that allow them to circumvent the obstacles and the propaganda created by the world’s “most isolated” regime; the resulting research offering a never-before-seen view into the inner truths of this nigh-impenetrable land.

Or, at least, so we would have it.

This is the image we North Korean researchers have often taken for ourselves.1 Playing off of old colonial images of the “hermit kingdom” now transferred to Pyongyang, our work has tended to capitalize on ideas of North Korea as a scholarly terra incognita, as though it was the last blank space on the map in an otherwise globalized world. This tendency, encouraged by the commercial instincts of publishers, has emphasized the solitary scholar working in a challenging environment...

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