A free service offering detailed insights into the history of Korea's Chosun period has attracted over 100,000 visitors in the month since the National Institute of Korean History started the website. Called "Annals of the Chosun Dynasty," it combines 21st century technology with the historical records of 500 years of the Chosun Dynasty and in the process reshapes the way we think about the period.
The site and others like it have given rise to a new class of Internet users, the "Nestorians," a portmanteau word combining historians and Netizens.
Take the hit movie "The King and the Clown," a story about the time of King Yeonsan. Before December, it would have been difficult for people other than professional historians to discover how much of the story was rooted in fact.
But the e-annals changed all that, and Nestorians have taken advantage of the tool to spread their activities to blogs. Already, many blogs include sections on their author's trawl through the annals, confirming that Jang-saeng (played by Kam Woo-sung) is a fictional character, but Gong-gil (played by Lee Jun-ki) actually existed.
History is in effect being wrested from the professionals. When all Chosun-era annals were translated from Chinese to Korean in 1993, anyone who wanted to know whether Jang-saeng and Gong-gil existed still had to work their way through at least 12-year's worth of the annals of King Yeonsan.
"Whether you're reading through all of the materials for study or merely searching for certain words determines how fast you are able to read. It would take at least a year to read through the entire annals of King Yeonsan," says Lee Sang-shik, a researcher with a Korean culture institute. "Earlier, there would have been differences in how quickly you could read the annals according to how competent you were in Chinese."
But now any elementary school student can find what they need in minutes. The e-annals also allow Nestorians to dig into their own family roots and draw up a tree if they want to. All it requires is the names of major ancestors, which can be easily discovered from parents or grandparents.
As a result, children can now tell their grandparents stories about their own ancestors. Nestorians can get a decent biographical sketch of a historical figure they are interested in as well as their own ancestors by investing a few hours of their time.
For example, the annals of King Jungjong show four records about Daejangguem, the protagonist in the historical drama "Jewel in the Palace," which has swept China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan.