“The College of Humanities: Where Tradition & Future Meet

1. The Establishment of Seoul National University & the College of Liberal Arts at Dongsung-dong

Seoul National University was founded on August 22, 1946, with the declaration of “Decree on the Establishment of a National University in Seoul.” by the Office of Academic Affairs of the American Military Government in South Korea. This decree abrogated several educations institutions including the forerunner of Seoul National University—Gyeongseong University (1945-1946), whose forerunner in turn was Keijo Imperial University (1926-1945). The College of Arts and Sciences at Seoul National University came together as a merger between the Faculty of Law and Literature and the Faculty of Science and Engineering of Gyeongseong University.

From its very inception, the College of Arts and Sciences was designed to promote research in the humanities and natural sciences and foster the education of young scholars. In the 1950s and 1960s, the College of Arts and Sciences was unquestionably a pioneer in the development and dissemination of the modern university system as we know it today.

2. The 1970s The Move to Mt. Gwanak & The College of Humanities

As the university grew in size, the “Ten-Year Integration Plan” was established to respond to the various needs for systemic reform. The College of Arts and Sciences, which had previously been divided into the College of the Arts and the College of Sciences, moved to its current Mount Gwanak location in February, 1975, and divided into the College of Humanities, College of Social Sciences, and College of Natural Sciences.

The newly formed College of Humanities comprised the following 11 departments: Korean Language and Literature, Chinese Language and Literature, English Language and Literature, French Language and Literature, German Language and Literature, Linguistics, Korean History, Eastern History, Western History, Philosophy, and Archaeology (the latter having separated from the department of Archeological Anthropology). At the newly integrated campus, a major influx of new faculty invigorated the research and teaching capabilities of old. With this renewal of personnel, the College of Humanities rose to the forefront of not only the study of Korean culture and heritage, but also other humanities-related fields such as philosophy, aesthetics and foreign literatures.

3. The 1980s A cradle for Humanities Studies

The 1980s ushered in an era of change of the College of Humanities. In the five years that followed its move to Gwanak, the College of Humanities faced increasing demands for the development of a humanities research capacity to parallel the growth of Korean society. Increase in academic exchange with various universities abroad across a wide range of disciplines created a need to expand the already established fields of study. To address these changes and create a systematic and organized research system, the College of Humanities embarked on a general restructuring process.

In 1981, the department of archaeology was renamed the department of Archaeology and Art History, and in 1984, the departments of Russian Language and Literature and Spanish Language and Literature were opened. In 1985, the department of Philosophy was divided into the departments of Philosophy, Aesthetics, and Religion, solidifying its reputation as a highly organized foundation for the study and research of humanities. Existing departments also made efforts to revamp their programs at the graduate level and actively sought to train and supplement their faculty and curricula. As a result, the College of Humanities faculty now boasts some of the strongest research at both national and international levels.

4. The 1990s Globalization and the Development of Research Capacities

Entering into the 1990s, the College of Humanities began to move beyond its department-centered system and to develop various interdisciplinary and combined programs. Looking beyond the domestic boundaries of Korea, the College of Humanities was able to create a human and material foundation for a global humanistic research and education system.

At the graduate level, interdisciplinary programs were established in Greco-Roman Classical Studies (1989), Cognitive Science (1994), Comparative Literature (1997), Archival Sciences (2001), and Performing Arts (2002). At the undergraduate level, an interdisciplinary program in Korean Studies was established in 2001. Furthermore, the College of Humanities hosted expert scholars from abroad to exchange and share their research with SNU’s own scholars, laying the human groundwork for extensive academic exchange. There are currently 15 departments and 5 graduate-level interdisciplinary programs. In 2001, the Research Center for Humanities underwent transformation and expanded into the Institute of Humanities (IOH), now comprising of 16 affiliated research centers. This has enhanced specialized research within the respective departments, as well as close association and cooperation among the different departments. IOH’s depth and breadth in academic research has been recognized by the National Research Foundation, which nominated the institute as HK (Humanities Korea) Project grant recipient for its “Civilization Research Project” in 2007.

5. The 2000s A time of Crisis and Opportunity for Humanities

The new millenium brought with it a fundamental crisis for universities in Korea. Sudden drop in birth rate resulted in a decrease in student pool, and many institutions were on the brink of closing down. As the total number of high school graduates fell below the university admission quota in 2018, and will continue to do so in the coming years, a systematic reform has become inevitable for universities now.

Leaving its prosperous years behind, a major reform has started to sweep across humanities. In the face of these daunting reforms, however, SNU’s College of Humanities has strived to deliver extensive humanities education to the public. The College opened International Office in 2011 and Educational Support Office in 2012 to provide further research options and opportunities for its students.
The College has also started nominating Humanities Fellow (alumni) to provide continuous support to the next generations of researchers.

6. Time for a progressive step forward

Ever since its inception, the College of Humanities has cultivated a progressive academic climate that seeks to integrate the past and the future by inheriting and reinterpreting from a modern perspective the best parts of our tradition while exploring universal human values. Despite rapidly changing social trends, time has proven that the College of Humanities is capable of nurturing future scholars and leaders both within Korea and in the international arena. The College of Humanities is building on its tradition of scholarship to rise to new social and academic challenges. All of us here at the College of Humanities are convinced that the humanities have a vital role to play in renewing human values and pointing the way to future society.