Student puts his own stamp on Leicester

David Hall, graduating with a History BA this week, has put his own ‘stamp’ on his academic work at the University of Leicester - quite literally!

David began collecting stamps when he was a child, inspired by his grandad’s collection. Now a serious pastime, David used this passion as the inspiration behind his important final-year dissertation on Korean history, which received one of the highest marks of the cohort.

After graduation, David will be taking up his place on a two year Master’s course in History and Korean Language at the prestigious institution the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), for which he received two scholarships, and where he will be taking his fascination with Korean culture to new heights by learning the language.

“My interest in stamps began around a decade ago when I would visit my grandparents,” David said, “I was fascinated with my grandad’s collection of Guernsey and British stamps. I remember he would spend a lot of time sorting through and organising his various collections, and so I became interested with the imagery and history associated with them. For Easter, he bought me a beginner’s world stamp album and a packet of assorted stamps.

“I enjoyed sorting through my stamps and adding them to the correct country page and soon wanted to become more serious about stamp collecting, which required specialising in a country or theme. After looking through my album and online, I was attracted to North Korean stamps by their heavy political, and often violent, imagery.

“I began buying North Korean stamps in 2013 and currently have almost 5,000 from 1946-2013. I originally began collecting from 1990-2000 because that’s the decade I was born and stamps from this period were easiest to buy. However, as my collection grew and I found more ways to buy stamps, I extended the dates of my collection.”

When it came time to choose his dissertation, David wanted to pick a topic with enough literature to build on, and a sufficient gap in knowledge to fill. This was the perfect opportunity to integrate his knowledge of Korean philately (otherwise known as the collection, appreciation and research activities on stamps).

“Because there had been no monographs written on North Korean stamps, it felt like I was sitting on a unique, untapped source of evidence,” he said.

“It was exciting to have and use new sources, something no one has really looked at before. From the hobby perspective, I was also interested in analysing my stamps on a deeper level, finding out the history and meaning behind them. The dissertation gave me a perfect opportunity to do that.”

David’s dissertation, entitled ‘North Korean National Identity, Expressed Through Postage Stamps, 1948-1970’ re-examined North Korean history, through the lens of postage stamps, highlighting how themes of national identity changed over time in historical context, and then how this identity was presented on postage stamps. The dissertation also critiqued traditional western scholarship on North Korea. David received a high first-class mark (82%) for his dissertation, one of the highest grades of the year.

Alongside academic study, David has also been a member of the Leicester Philatelic Society and secretary for the University Tae Kwon Do society. Upon moving to London for his Master’s, he intends to join the Royal Philatelic Society London.

As for David’s future plans, becoming an expert in Korea and its history is at the top of his list. He said: “I’m really excited to go to South Korea during the summer of 2019 and spend ten weeks there as part of a summer school programme run by SOAS. I am so grateful to have been offered two sources of funding towards my tuition fees, the Sochon Foundation Scholarship and the Centre for Korean Studies Bursary.

“I would like to do a PhD in history once I have finished my Master’s degree, specialising in Korea. I hope the language ability I will acquire will allow me to pursue this, as I will need to read original sources and probably do some further research in Korea. I also hope my time at SOAS will allow me to explore many more aspects of Korean history and sources, as I have mostly limited myself to North Korean history and postage stamps up to now.”

He added: “I can’t believe how quickly the three years here at Leicester passed. I would just like to say thank you to Dr Lincoln and Dr Knox for their support supervising my dissertation and supporting my SOAS application, I am very much looking forward to graduation and starting SOAS in September!”

Dr Zoe Knox, Associate Professor in Modern Russian History, said: “I have had the immense pleasure of being David’s Personal Tutor throughout his time at Leicester. I met him during his first few days at university. It was immediately clear that he would make the most of his time here; he was engaged with his subject, his fellow history students, and with the broader campus community from the start.

“I have followed David’s academic and personal development closely over the past three years (and have even seen his stamp collection!). I am especially delighted that he was able to bring together his passion for philately and his academic interests into such an original and interesting dissertation topic. I wish him all the best with his future studies.”