University of Washington

History of the Korea Studies Program at

the University of Washington


Instruction in the Korean language began at the University of Washington in 1943 when an Army Specialized Training Program began preparing personnel for administrative duties in what was to become occupied East Asia.  The University of Washington was thus one of the first Universities in the country to teach Korean language.  In 1944, the program was expanded to include civilians as George Taylor built up the Department of Far Eastern Studies with help from grants from the Rockefeller and Mellon Foundations.  Korean literature was added in 1955 when Doo Soo Suh (Ph.D Columbia) arrived.  Fred Lukoff (Ph.D Pennsylvania 1954) was added to the program in 1964 to teach Korean language and linguistics.  A major reorganization of the program occurred in 1968 when the Russian and Far East Institute was organized for social scientists, and Asian languages and literature and Slavic languages were spun off into their own departments.  Since that time the Korea Studies Program has been an interdisciplinary program run from the Jackson School of International Studies (called The Russian and Far East Institute from 1968 to 1976, the School of International Studies from 1976 to 1983, and the Jackson School of International Studies since 1983), but including faculty from a variety of departments.

Associate Professor Emeritus of the Department of Asian Languages and Literature Doo Soo Suh passed away November 14, 1994 at age 86, after serving at the University of Washington since 1955.  A linguist who taught Korean language and literary classics, he was a scholar of Korean classics.  He specialized in a form of Korean theatrical productions featuring one- or two-person operas.  He was born in Seoul, Korea on March 11, 1907, and received his graduate degrees from Columbia University.  He joined the UW as a visiting lecturer in 1955 and retired in 1977.

James (Jim) Palais (PhD Harvard 1968) was appointed to the Russian and Far East Institute as Professor in Korean history in 1968 (he was later jointly appointed in the History Department as well).  At this point, the Korea Program had three faculty lines, two in Asian Languages and Literature, and one in History making it the largest Korea Program on the North American mainland.  In 1977, when Professor Doo Soo Suh retired from Asian Languages and Literature, a line was transferred to the Jackson School of International Studies to be occupied by the political scientist Bruce Cumings (Ph.D Columbia 1975)  who remained at UW until 1988, when he moved to the University of Chicago.  Since 1989, that line has been occupied by the anthropologist, Clark Sorensen (Ph.D University of Washington 1981), who has been Director of the Korea Studies Program since 1998.  Professor Palais retired in 2001, but continued to teach part-time through 2005.  Ann Sung-hi Lee (Ph.D Columbia 1991) was Assistant Professor of Korean literature at UW from 1996 to 2003.  Scott Swaner (Ph.D Harvard 2003) was a Freeman Fellow at UW 2003-4 and since 2004 has been Assistant Professor of Korean Literature with a specialty in modern Korean poetry.  Jonathan Kang arrived in 2006 to teach Korean Law in the Asian Law Program.

Jim Palais published Occasional Papers on Korea from 1974 to 1977 and the Journal of Korean Studies from 1979 to 1984 (now continued at Stanford).  From 1988 until his retirement from teaching in 2005, Jim Palais edited the highly respected monograph series Korean Studies at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington Press. The series is now edited by Clark Sorensen.  Six books have been published so far, and four more are in the process of publication.  Two of the publications of this series have received the John Whitney Hall Book Prize awarded by the Association for Asian Studies annually for the best book on China, Japan, or Korea.

Since its establishment more than 80 students have graduated with MA’s from the Korea Studies Program, and have gone on to careers in academia, the State Department, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the US Armed Forces, international finance, journalism, and other fields.  Professor Palais trained some 15 Ph.D.s in Korean history from 1968 until his retirement, and these students now play a key role teaching Korean history at leading universities in the US, Korea, and Japan.  Students working with UW Korea Studies faculty have received Ph.D.s on Korean subjects in political science, linguistics, sociology, anthropology, ethnomusicology, education, law, and urban planning, and these graduates teach at leading institutions in the US, Korea, and Japan.  The Asian Law Program has graduated about 10 Korean Ph.D.s in law.

Center for Korea Studies
431 Thomson Box 353650 Seattle, WA 98195