Freeman grant to finance new program in pan-Korean studies

A crucial element in both modern and historical East Asian studies, Korea has long held a considerably minor part in the curriculum at Williams College. But that is soon to change.

The Freeman Foundation has awarded to the College a four-year grant worth over $900,000. The grant is intended to aid the Asian Studies department in expanding its emphasis on Korean culture. The Foundation is a private, New York-based organization whose goal is to advance knowledge of Asian history and culture among people in the United States. George T. Crane, chair of Asian Studies and professor of political science, will direct funds from the grant project.

“There are some really good historical and intellectual reasons to focus on Korea,” Crane said. “In a way, it can be understood as a cultural crux for the region.”

For example, he said, Korea became a mediator through which Chinese culture had a dramatic effect on Japan. The centerpiece of the grant is the creation of a visiting faculty position, which the College hopes to fill in time for the 2003-2004 academic year. The search for an expert in Korean studies is already underway: the College will soon place advertisements in academic journals announcing the open position.

“We really need a Korean specialist,” Crane said. “In the Asian Studies department, we cover China and Japan in language and other subjects and we have faculty members whose specialties are China and Japan. We do those two well. The idea is to expand Asian Studies and East Asian Studies in particular, pulling Korea more into the curriculum.”

Crane said that even though the pool of candidates will probably be small, there has been an emergence of Korean studies around the country of late. Universities like Harvard and the University of California at Berkeley are trying to build up their Korean Studies programs.

“People are emerging with a variety of different degrees in history, politics, anthropology and literature, all in Korean specialization,” he said.

Despite relatively limited resources, the department hopes to reach more people and have a larger impact on the curriculum by developing courses like Korean and East Asian History, Korean Anthropology or Korean and East Asian Politics. Although there has been some interest in beginning Korean language classes here, department chairs agree that another type of program would probably be more successful.

Crane invited various departments such as history and political science to participate in the search for the new faculty member. “We are looking for the best person to bring Korea in the curriculum,” he said.

The grant will also provide $25,000 a year for four years to build up East Asian resources with an emphasis on Korea in the library. The library currently contains substantial information on China and Japan, which Crane hopes will be enhanced by the addition of Korean media. Another use for the grant currently being discussed is financing an exchange program between students here and in South Korea. This project is still in the early stages.

News of the grant was welcomed by the Koreans of Williams (KOW) student group.

“All of us are excited about the grant,” Rod McLeod ’05, KOW co-chair, said.

“It gives us a lot of options for activities and events, whereas in the past we’ve been restricted by budgets and low funding.”

“This is really exciting news,” agreed Crystal Son ’05, KOW’s other co-chair. “This is a great opportunity for us to expose the campus to a lot of Korean culture.”

Crane hopes to collaborate with KOW on different projects throughout the year that will increase the exposure of Korean culture on campus. The programs could be funded with grant money.

“With the grant, we hope to bring a lot of performers and speakers during the whole year to educate and raise the awareness of the campus in Korean and Korean American Issues, as opposed to just in Asian-Awareness Month,” McLeod said. “We are already talking to dance troupes in hopes of scheduling a performance sometime in the spring term.”

“We are also planning to use the grant for library funds – buying books, magazine subscriptions and other publications, CDs, movies -as well as for bringing speakers and performers to campus,” Son said.

McLeod and Son also hope to develop KOW’s communication with other Korean student associations to set up conferences and networks with other colleges. KOW has already formed a committee to aid in the search for a Korean professor.

Crane hopes that the grant money will give the College a greater capacity to understand other parts of Asia as well as Korea.

“This will make us better at teaching Asian Studies in general,” he said.