Korean War Legacy Project

Exploring and Teaching the Korean War (UK Curriculum)


Exploring and Teaching the Korean War (UK Curriculum)

The Korean War has been called ‘The Forgotten War’. Yet it was profoundly significant to the development of the Cold War. It had a cataclysmic impact on both North and South Korea which continues to affect both nations’ development to this day. And it continues to influence relationships between the USA and China – today’s global superpowers.

It deserves more of our attention. It deserves more of our teaching time. This publication aims to help all teachers to see its relevance to their curriculum and to explore and teach the Korean War and its legacy with confidence.

  • Section 1 provides authoritative subject updates from leading academics
  • Section 2 provides practical guidance on why and how you can introduce more teaching of the Korean War into your curriculum
  • Section 3 offers eight ready-to-teach enquiries for KS3, GCSE and A-level classes. These are supported with editable PowerPoints and Word documents downloadable from the online resources

This publication is a joint publication from the Historical Association and World History Digital Education sponsored by the Korea Foundation. It grows out of a 6 month long Historical Association Teacher Fellowship Programme (funded by World History Digital Education). The programme recruited eight talented British teachers and exposed them to the latest academic research, through a residential conference followed by an intensive online programme (moderated by Ben Walsh). They engaged with cutting edge academic scholarship. Out of this they each created the classroom teaching resources contained in this publication.

Section 1: Subject knowledge updates

In this section you will find a number of articles aimed at setting the subject knowledge context to the Korean War for teachers in the UK and specific articles to support teaching enquiries.

This section includes: "The Korean War: Quo vadis? The ongoing legacy of the Korean War and questions for the future" from Jongwoo Han, "The legacy of the Korean War" from Gregg A. Brazinsky, "Situating the Korean War in the context of the Cold War and British Cold War policies" from Thomas Hennessey, and "Situating the Korean War in British History" from Grace Huxford.

South Korean poster 1952; Daily Worker sellers protest 1950; N-S Korean border today; S Korean elections 2007

Section 2: Teaching Korean history in British schools

In this section you’ll find background to the Teacher Fellowship programme and articles providing the curricular rationale for including a study of the Korean War at Key Stages 3-5.

This section includes: "The Historical Association Teacher Fellowship Programme", "A basic introduction to the Korean War" (if you need it!), "Why teach about the Korean War?", and "Finding space in your curriculum for teaching about the Korean War".

Korean war map

Section 3: Enquiries

Section 3 of the book includes a series of enquiries, listed below:

Enquiry 1: An unpopular war?

A two-lesson enquiry for KS3 by Jennifer McCullough

This enquiry has been designed to help teachers of Key Stage 3 integrate the Korean War into a wider scheme of work on the Cold War. After covering, in outline, the main events of the war and Britain’s involvement, it then explores the war as it was perceived in Britain. It focuses particularly on opposition to the war from a number of individuals, investigating the reasons for that opposition and how their views were received by the media, politicians and the public at large.

Enquiry 2: A forgotten war?

A two-lesson enquiry for KS3 by Rachel Steels

These two lessons are designed to introduce students to the fact that the Korean War has become a forgotten war in Britain and to reflect on the reasons for this. A key element is students hearing the voices of the veterans, but students will also get the chance to use other source material to place these voices into context. In addition, students will see how learning about the veterans’ experiences can make the Korean War a remembered war, and they will engage with the concept of memorialisation.

Enquiry 3: Impact and memory

A three-lesson enquiry for KS3 by Andrew Wrenn

The Korean War (if it is studied at all) is usually presented as part of the Cold War or from the point of view of particular nationalities who fought in it. In contrast, this resource aims to explore the impact that the war had on a variety of participants at the time. It also considers how memory of the war became ‘lost’, in Britain at least, and then how the memory was recovered by British military veterans. The resource then broadens its focus to consider which participants in the war or victims of the war students might include in a memorial and for what reasons.

Enquiry 4: The UNO intervention

A two-lesson enquiry for KS4 by Jacob Keet

The enquiry consists of an introductory lesson on the reasons behind UN intervention in the Korean War followed by source-based case studies of the roles of Turkey, Denmark, the Netherlands and Canada. The case-study lessons include guiding questions for teachers to use if they want to supplement the source material.

Enquiry 5: The Glorious Glosters

A two-lesson enquiry for KS4 by Erica Kingswood

This enquiry seeks to engage students with the different interpretations of the famous Battle of the Imjin River, in particular the events of Hill 235 and the experience of the Glosters (the Gloucestershire Regiment). The principal outcome is for students to build a narrative from a range of contemporary source material. Students will also explore the different ways in which the battle has been interpreted, particularly the contrast between the way it is remembered with reverence in the Republic of South Korea and the relative lack of attention paid to it in Britain.

Enquiry 6: Contested evidence

A two-lesson enquiry for KS4 by Kristian Shanks

This resource will enable students to explore a key controversy from the Korean War – whether or not the US used biological weapons against civilians in North Korea and China in contravention of the modern-day ‘rules of war’. The resource will also enable students to think about how certain we can be of the answers to historical questions and about the contested nature of historical evidence and the way in which it is interpreted.

Enquiry 7: An unfinished war

A four-lesson enquiry for A-level students by Guy Birks

This enquiry investigates why, despite the signing of an armistice in 1953, there has been no genuine peace in Korea. It explores the continuing tensions on the Korean Peninsula during the following decades of the Cold War and in the post-Cold War era. It incorporates recently unearthed and original primary sources, along with compelling historical interpretations. The four lessons can be taught sequentially; however, there is also scope for their integration, as stand-alone lessons, at various points in an overall study of Korea in the Cold War or of contemporary international relations.

Enquiry 8: How did Britain respond to the Korean War?

A three-lesson enquiry for A-level students by John Marrill

The enquiry seeks to use British responses to the Korean War as a means to examine, in greater depth than might usually be the case, who ran Britain, for what purposes and by what means in the early Cold War years. The enquiry considers the responses of the Labour and Conservative governments of the period, institutions wielding power and influence, which were not subject to the electoral process, such as the Civil Service and the army, that Hennessey (2013) has dubbed the ‘permanent state’. The enquiry will use both primary sources and wide-ranging scholarship. The latter will facilitate considerations of the purpose of disparate scholars when writing history.