History of Cornell Korean Studies

The Department of Asian Studies is nearly as old as Cornell University itself. The first courses in Japanese and Chinese were offered in 1870, just four years after the University’s opening. The East Asian Collection started in 1918 after a bequest from Charles W. Wason of approximately 9,500 books, 1,200 pamphlets, 550 manuscripts and innumerable documents, drawings, maps and rare objects. By the late 1980s the collection had grown enough in size that it needed a new space and Carl A. Kroch ’35, CEO of Brentano’s Books, generously supported building a new space to house the collection.

China, Japan, and Korea constitute the three primary subdivisions in the Wason Collection following the major East Asian national boundaries and language groupings. Within these subdivisions, the Wason Collection also places special focus on minority ethnic and cultural groups within East Asia. 

In Kroch Library’s Asian Reading Room you can study, browse new books, read periodicals and newspapers and use the reference collections. There are almost a million volumes in all subjects in multiple languages. There are a total of 8,500 videos in Asian languages and about Asia that can be checked out. The Dean Room in Uris Library houses DVDs and has a viewing room. Videocassettes are at the Annex Library and can be requested and delivered to the most convenient Cornell library location. Another resource is The Korean Film Archive, a website streaming service which is accessible from a designated computer in the Asia Reading Room. 

Cornell's connection with Korea dates back as far as the posting of 1901 graduate Willard Straight to Seoul as a Reuters correspondent in 1904. Straight's priceless photographs and reports from this period are held in the Wason Collection and are documented at Willard Dickerman Straight and Early U.S.-Korea Diplomatic Relations.

Cornell University Library’s Korea holdings are among the top 18 Korea collections in North America, with over 20,000 volumes. The collection focuses primarily on the history of Korean thought, the colonial period, the economic recovery after 1945, the modern independence movement, Korean linguistics, and the history of the Korean language. Highlights of the Korean collection include holdings of historical photographs regarding Korean life from the late 19th - early 20th centuries, as well as strong representation of architecture and mapping traditions.

History of the Korean Studies program:

1976 - Courses on Korean history and literature began with the Department of Asian Studies hiring David McCann, Professor Emeritus of Harvard and renowned specialist in Korean literature.

1987 - John Whitman began teaching courses on Korean linguistics in the Department of Linguistics.

He was previously the Director of the East Asia Program and is currently Associate Director for Korean Studies. Whitman is also the editor of the international journal Korean Linguistics.

1990 - The Cornell Korean language program was initiated. Korean is currently offered at four levels under the direction of Meejeong Song in the Department of Asian Studies.

2001- Michael D. Shin, who moved onto Cambridge University, was hired in the Department of Asian Studies, with the Korean Foundation's support.

           This period saw a rapid expansion of the Korea collection in Wason and in Korean-related activities, including a number of international conferences such as the International Conference on Korean Linguistics in 2008. 

2011 - Ellie Yunjung Choi was hired as an Assistant Professor of Modern Korean Studies in the Department of Asian Studies. Professor Choi is now at Smith College.

2015 - With support from the Korea Foundation, the East Asia Program initiated the Distinguished Visiting Professor program to bring leading scholars from Korea for a semester of teaching, research, and workshop activities at Cornell.

            Joohee Lee, Professor of Sociology at Ewha Woman's University, inaugurated the program in spring 2015.  Professor Lee is an expert     on employment relations and taught a course on social issues in South Korea.

             Eun-Shil Kim, Professor of Women’s Studies at Ewha Womans University, taught a course on transnational feminism through the   Department of Anthropology. 

2016 Miseong Woo, Professor of English Language and Literature at Yonsei University, was the fall 2016 Distinguished Visiting Professor. She taught a course about Korean popular culture and modernity.

2017Hyun-ho Joo, Assistant Professor at Yonsei University, taught an Introduction to Korea course in the Department of Asian Studies in spring 2017.

2020 - Ivanna Sang Een Yi Assistant Professor, is a scholar of Korean literature, culture, and performance. Her research focuses on the performative dimensions of living oral traditions as they interact with written literature and the environment from the late Chosŏn period to the present.