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About Korean Studies

The Program in Transnational Korean Studies (formerly, the Korean Studies), traces its roots to the year 2000 when faculty in the division began offering courses on Korean literature and culture to supplement an already established curriculum of Korean language courses.

Given UC San Diego’s reputation as an institution founded on a firm belief in interdisciplinary studies, we have chosen to move beyond the traditional “area studies” model typically used by larger Korean Studies programs at most national universities to study other nation-states and regions of the world. With this existing strength we now propose to institutionalize our innovative approach to Korea’s role on the world stage, or what we call transnational studies. This approach views Korea in the context of its relationship with other countries, regions, and partners with respect to important, contemporary topics of concern and study.

The majority of programs at other institutions approach Korean Studies by underscoring the uniqueness of the peninsula’s history and culture, whereas UC San Diego’s program was founded on the principle that the most effective and long-term growth strategy is to make Korean Studies relevant to and engage with other nation-states, cultures, and areas. To this end, our faculty members focus on prominent themes that locate the peninsula not just in local and national contexts but also in their regional and global connections to the rest of the world.

Themes of particular interest in the Arts and Humanities are:

  • Race/Ethnicity
  • Gender/Sexuality
  • Colonialism/neo-coloniality
  • Migration/diaspora (both internal and external to Korea)
  • Globalization

Korean Studies in North America and at UC San Diego

In the last two decades, Korean Studies programs in North America have grown dramatically. This remarkable growth has produced several top-tier Korean Studies programs in the humanities, such as at UCLA, Harvard University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Toronto.

It is not our goal to duplicate these successful programs. Rather, we seek to complement them with a different approach by emphasizing conceptual frameworks marginalized at more mainstream programs. These frameworks include transnational and comparative histories and cultural productions, race, gender/sexuality, migration, and globalization. As a unique and cutting-edge intellectual institution, we want to contribute to Korean Studies by diversifying it. In taking this approach, we believe that we can contribute dramatically to the breadth of Korean Studies programs by making the peninsula even more relevant to groups and communities locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally.

Korean Population and Korean Studies in Southern California

There are approximately 1.3 million Korean Americans in the United States, with more than 505,000 living in California. The greater Los Angeles area has long been a center of Korean business, culture, and academic life. Large Korean American communities exist in Koreatown of Los Angeles, the eastern San Gabriel Valley, the San Fernando Valley, Cerritos/Long Beach, South Bay, Los Angeles, and northern Orange County. Koreans are growing in number in the suburban “Inland Empire” east of Los Angeles, in cities such as Chino Hills, Corona, Desert Hot Springs, and Loma Linda south of San Bernardino. Since 1990, the Korean American population has been relocating westward and northward in the Los Angeles area.

San Diego too has a rapidly growing Korean and Korean American population that provides a community base to support and benefit from local Korean Studies programs. It is diverse, consisting of first-generation immigrants, second- and third-generation Korean Americans, and a large Korean resident population related to Korean businesses in San Diego, including LG’s corporate headquarters.

San Diego is home to three major universities other than UC San Diego: the University of San Diego, San Diego State University (SDSU), and California State University, San Marcos (CSUSM). The first institution offers a semester exchange program with Korea University Business School, and its Office of Sponsored Programs offers opportunities to conduct policy and science/engineering research in Korea. SDSU initiated a program in Korean Studies in 2008 that “provides students the opportunity to study the Korean language and culture, as well as help students of Korean heritage maintain their cultural roots.” It offers Korean language instruction from beginning to advanced levels and a handful of classes on Korean civilization, culture and society, and media. By contrast, CSUSM offers only one course in beginning Korean language.

Working with these less developed academic programs, we envision that UC San Diego’s Program in Transnational Korean Studies will become a core resource for Korean and Korean Americans living in the region who have been underserved by the city’s universities. In addition, we will reach out to UC San Diego alumni from the Transnational Korean Studies program and of Korean heritage, including those living in Korea to build a stronger support community.

Korean Artists in the UC San Diego Stuart Collection

The Stuart Collection at the University of California San Diego seeks to enrich the cultural, intellectual, and scholarly life of the UC San Diego campus and of the San Diego community by building and maintaining a unique collection of site-specific works by leading artists of our time. It has been inventive in both its curatorial point of view and its working processes. The collection results from an innovative partnership between the university and the Stuart Collection. Under an agreement forged in 1982 (and renewed in 2003), the entire campus may be considered as sites for commissioned sculpture. It is further distinguished from a traditional sculpture garden by integration of some of the projects with university buildings. With the enthusiastic cooperation of the UC San Diego Department of Visual Arts, and financial support from the Stuart Foundation, the Friends of the Stuart Collection, the National Endowment for the Arts, and many other organizations, foundations and individuals, the collection has initiated and completed an impressive range of projects. The selection of artists for commissions is based on the advice of the Stuart Collection Advisory Board, which is composed of art professionals of international stature. Artists are invited to conceive and develop proposals with the assistance of the Stuart Collection staff.  For more on the collection, click here [link:]

Of the 18 artists currently represented in the Stuart Collection, two are closely connected to the vision of UC San Diego's Program in Transnational Korean Studies:

1. Nam June Paik, "Something Pacific" (1986) 

Nam June Paik (1932-2006) was born in Korea, but moved to New York City in 1964. He is frequently referred to as "the grandfather of video art." Paik began his career as a composer and musician studying at the University of Tokyo, the University of Munich, and the Conservatory of Music in Freiburg, Germany. Influenced by the composer John Cage, Paik's interests brought him into the orbit of Fluxus, an international postwar movement of artists -- many of whom were influenced by the earlier work of Duchamp and Dada -- who sought to break down the barriers between high art and everyday life. Fluxus is often considered "anti-art" in its sometimes violent renunciation of conventional definitions of the art object.

Paik's Something Pacific for the Stuart Collection was his first permanent outdoor installation. This work relates specifically to its site, which includes the lobby of the university's Media Center as well as the lawns surrounding the building. Outdoors, the work features several ruined televisions embedded in the landscape; some are paired with Buddhas, and one, a tiny Sony Watchman, is topped by a miniature reproduction of Rodin's Thinker. In striking contrast to this video graveyard, the lobby of the Media Center houses one of Paik's lively interactive banks of TV monitors. By means of a control panel, viewers are able to manipulate sequences of Paik's own tapes and broadcast MTV. Like much of Paik's art, Something Pacific's outdoor and indoor sections use the video medium to contrast two very different experiences of time -- one involving extended contemplation and the other instantaneous reaction. More importantly, the scattered ruins of televisions offer a cautionary tale for those entering the Media Center. Paik places televisions in the landscape in order to dramatize his belief that television has defined the American landscape since World War II. The outdoor TVs are all "dead" sets, skeletal remains that Paik has returned to nature, perhaps to be discovered in future archeological digs.

2. Do Ho Suh, "Fallen Star" (2012) 

Do Ho Suh’s Fallen Star is the 18th permanent sculpture commissioned by UC San Diego’s Stuart Collection. It reflects Suh’s on-going exploration of themes around the idea of home, cultural displacement, the perception of our surroundings, and how one constructs a memory of a space. His own feelings of displacement when he arrived in the U.S. from Seoul, Korea in 1991 to study led him to measure spaces in order to establish relationships with his new surroundings. He had to physically and mentally readjust.

Suh’s small “home” has perhaps been picked up by some mysterious force and appears to have landed or crashed onto the seventh floor of Jacobs Hall at the Jacobs School of Engineering. The roof garden is part of his design and the whole creates a space with panoramic views for small groups to gather and readjust.

Do Ho Suh graduated from Seoul National University. He received a BFA in painting from the Rhode Island School of Design and an MFA in sculpture from Yale University. He represented Korea at the Venice Biennale in 2001. Suh has exhibited around the world and is represented in numerous museum collections. He lives and works in New York, London and Seoul.

 "Fallen Star" Public Hours: Tuesdays & Thursdays, 11:00 AM - 2:00 PM