The Center for Korean Research plays a leading role in the study of Korea within Columbia University, the New York City area, and beyond. At Columbia, CKR fosters global, interdisciplinary connections, frequently partnering with the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, APEC Study Center, the Institute for the Study of Human Rights, The Center for Korean Legal Studies, Human Rights Institute, Columbia Law School, Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality, Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, C.V. Starr East Asian Library, Film Program in the School of the Arts, and Jerome A. Chazen Institute of International Business. By sponsoring public lectures, conferences, workshops, and cultural events such as movies and concerts on Korea-related topics, the CKR works to advance academic knowledge and a greater public awareness of Korea in the New York City area and, more broadly, North America. CKR also serves as a bridge between Korean Studies in North America and the most recent work of the Korean academic world through its sponsorship of visiting scholars and active partnerships with universities and institutions in South Korea. The CKR hosts the annual Columbia Alumni Association of Korea Colloquium Series on Contemporary Korean Affairs. The CKR also sponsors the annual “Center for Korean Research Manhae Prize for Korean Language” in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures.
Long before the establishment of the CKR, Columbia University already had a thriving academic relationship with Korea. As early as the 1920s, Columbia University had been a destination for students and scholars from Korea. Among the most notable from this generation of pioneers was Kim Hwallan, who graduated with a Ph.D. in Philosophy in 1931. Not only was she the first Korean woman to earn a doctoral degree, Kim went on to become one of the most important champions of education, women’s rights, and Korean independence in Korea’s modern history. Now, Columbia University is not only a major destination for international students from Korea, but also, through the CKR, a host institution for visiting scholars, professionals, and writers from Korea.
The year of Kim Hwallan’s graduation, 1931, also witnessed the inception of the university libraries’ now extensive Korean collection. With their donation of Korean books to Columbia, Korean students in the New York area helped establish a Korean Library and Culture Center. This donation became the basis of what would later become the Korean Collection of the C.V. Starr East Asian Library. Over the 20th century, the library’s Korean collection steadily expanded, with holdings of over 40,000 volumes by 1990. The collection has continued to grow over the past decades. As of June 2012, the collection boasts 82,000 monographs, 500 periodicals and 1,400 non-book formats, in addition to over 700 titles in the Korean rare books and special collections.
Korean Studies first became a formal part of Columbia’s curricular offerings in 1950, when Dr. Eungpal Yun, Minister of the Korean Methodist in New York taught the first Korean language course. In 1960, Columbia offered its first Korean Civilization course. Taught first by visiting scholars Peter H. Lee and later by William E. Skillend, this course prefigured the steady growth of academic interest in Korea at Columbia University over the next few decades. Another major turning point for Korean Studies at Columbia was when the Department of Chinese and Japanese Studies was renamed to East Asian Languages and Cultures in 1964, giving Korean Studies official recognition within the university. From 1964 until 2000, the Korean Studies program grew steadily through the efforts of Gari Ledyard, who taught a range of courses covering linguistics, history, and literature. In the 1970s, the Korean language program took its present form. In 1994, the Myoung-Soo Shin Endowment for Korean Studies was established at Columbia University. Thanks to the Korea Foundation, the King Sejong Professorship was established in 1994. Eventually, three more professorships were established, one in the social sciences and two in the humanities. With four full-time professorships, Columbia University has become one of the leading Korean Studies programs in the United States.
The CKR at Columbia University has continued to expand with the on-going support of the Myoung- Soo Shin Fund, the Academy of Korean Studies, the Korea Foundation, and the Columbia Alumni Association of Korea (CAA Korea).