Department History

"Our official history begins with the establishment of Seoul National University"


Our official history begins with the establishment of Seoul National University. If we take into consideration the 1946 establishment of Kyungsung Imperial University, which gave rise to Seoul National University, and the fact that Kyungsung셲 College of Law and Literature included an English department, Seoul National University셲 English department셲 history could technically be extended by twenty years. Nevertheless, this prior history is little more than just that a prior history so let us not dwell on the past of the past. Suffice it to say that the English Department at Kyungsung counted among its alumni novelist Lee Hyo-seok; Shakespeare and literary criticism scholar Choi Jae-Seo, who was appointed lecturer at his alma mater upon graduation; and Kim Ki-rim, a distinguished contributor to modern Korean poetry, who taught briefly as an associate professor in the years directly following the Korean liberation. From its establishment in 1946 up until the early 1960s, Seoul National University셲 department of English, like that of other institutions, suffered from a dearth of academic resources and personnel, the very purchase of basic literary materials being a challenge. Professor Lee Yang-ha was the key figure who helped develop the English department during these tough times. A well-known essayist, Professor Lee enthusiastically introduced contemporary modern writers and critics like T.S. Eliot and I.A. Richards to Korea. Along with Professor Lee, Professors Choi Jeong-woo, Jang Sung-eon, Jun Jae-ok, and Koh Seok-gu were appointed from 1945 to 1947 and contributed to the construction of the English department into an independent entity, but Professors Choi Jeong-woo and Jang Sung-eon left the department soon thereafter. Professors Park Choong-jip and Kwon Joong-hwee were appointed between 1948 and 1949, Professor Song Wook in 1954, and together they laid the foundations for the English department up until the 1960s. The English-Korean dictionary compiled by Professors Lee Yang-ha and Kwon Joong-hwee, who were the two main pillars of the English department at the time, became a cornerstone of English education in Korea.




The 1960s

The 1960s saw a revolutionary wave in the English department. With Professor Lee Yang-ha passing away in 1963 and Professor Kwon Joong-hwee being appointed as the Dean at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Professors Moon Sang-deuk, Kim Woo-chang, and Baek Nak-chung were appointed between 1962 and 1963, as well as Professors Lee Kyung-sik and Kim Jong-woon in 1965-66. These young professors, who had completed their graduate studies at universities in the United Kingdom and the United States, added a new sense of dynamism to the department. The amount of reading demanded of students increased during this time, and dissertations were being returned to students with detailed comments for the first time. The plays of John Webster, 17th and 18th century British poetry, and works by Milton, George Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, W.B. Yeats, Wallace Stevens, Henry James, Mark Twain, William Faulkner, and Richard Wright were added to the original curriculum that had consisted of the works of Shakespeare, the Romantics, and 19th century novels. Students took advantage of the promising and novel atmosphere, and began regularly performing theatrical pieces in English and publishing research journals and school papers like the Prometheus, and Paulownia. Compared to the poor conditions it had been forced to operate under for 20 years, the late 60s constituted a short golden age for the English department, and this period of hope continued until the mid 70s, when the campus relocated to Kwanak Mountain.


The 1970s

Professors Baek Nak-chung and Song Wook had obtained their Ph.D셲 from Harvard University and Seoul National University in 1972, respectively, while Professors Kim Jong-woon and Kim Woo-chang obtained their Ph.D셲 from Seoul National University and Harvard University in 1974; and they were the first faculty members to hold doctorate degrees. In 1974, immediately before the relocation to Kwanak Mountain, professor Kim Seok-san, who had majored in Old English, joined the faculty, and Professor Kim Woo-chang moved to Korea University. In December of 1974, Professor Baek Nak-chung was dismissed for participating in the Citizen셲 Proclamation for the Restoration of Democracy during the so-called Reformation years. He was reinstated in March, 1980. From the earliest years of its establishment, the department included foreign lecturers and among them, George Rainer held his position the longest. He taught survey courses on English literature, and lectures on James Joyce, among others.

From the 1950s to 1960s, students of different classes, from sophomores to seniors took classes together, as is wont to happen in schools with limited curricula. One of the ineluctable parts of student life at the time involved regular pilgrimages to the used bookstores scattered throughout the alleyways of Jongro, Chungaechun, Myundong, and Gwanghwamoon. It was still difficult to find texts in their original language back then. To happen upon a familiar title was a great joy, and discovering a particularly valuable book was cause for celebration.

In 1975, the school moved to Kwanak Mountain under the plan for comprehensivization and professors from other colleges, linguistics centers and areas of English education joined the English department. Professors Kang Dae-gun, Kook Jung-hyo, Kim Gwang-ho, Kim In-sook, Kim Hang-gon, Moon Woo-sang, Park Nam-sik, Park Si-in, Park Hee-jin, Seok Kyung-jing, Song Nak-hun, Yang Dong-hwee, Lee Byung-gun, Lee Sang-ok, Jang Wang-rok, Cho Byung-tae, Cho Sung-ji, Cho Joon-hak, Cheon Seung-gul, Hwang Dong-gyu, and Hwang Chan-ho joined the department, increasing the number of faculty to nearly 30. As part of the comprehensivization process, the college changed its name from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to the College of Humanities; beginning in 1976, alumni held the title of graduate of the English Department of the College of Humanities. The student body has generally maintained a steady 20-30 students, but for the 3-4 years following the move to Kwanak Mountain, with the 5th Republic셲 government expansion of student body quotas, there were years with 80-100 students per class. After that, however, numbers stayed between 25-40, and from 1987, the student body has numbered at 35.


The 1980s

As the curriculum was being newly reworked, a wave of central and budding literary scholars entered the department in the early 1980s. Led by Professor Kim Myung-ryul in 1981, a host of professors, most of whom had obtained their Ph.D셲 from American universities, joined the faculty. Professors Kim Young-moo (1982), Lee Sung-won (1983), Hong Ki-chang, Kim Seong-gon (1984), Lee Jung-ho, Lee Jong-sook (1985), Shin Jeong-hyun, Ryu Myung-sook (1987), Byun Chang-ghu, and Chang Kyung-ryul (1989) promised to strengthen the foundations of the department, as well as injecting the faculty overall with fresh blood. Naturally, this change occurred in conjunction with the stepping down of the frontline of veteran professors. In 1980, Professor Song Wook passed away, and Professor Gook Jung-hyo left the university that same year. Professors Chun Je-ok (1983), Koh Seok-gu (1984), Park Si-in, and Hwang Chan-ho (1987) retired, while Professors Moon Sang-deuk (1983), Kang Dae-gun (1986) and Jang Wang-rok (1988) moved to different universities. Above all, the 1980s was a time during which the graduate program was even more reinforced, and around 20 masters students and 10 doctorate students were admitted every year. It was beginning in 1987 that the first undergraduates who had joined the program since the 1975 comprehensivization began to graduate from our department with Ph.D셲.




The 1980s was also a time of great political turmoil, characterized by the pro-democracy movement that took place in Gwangju. It changed the face of student life and strengthened the substance of the English department. If their predecessors had relied largely on individual and independent study, group study and research that divided readings among many students were among the study methods of the 80s. Along with books meant to deepen academic studies, so-called ideological reading, designed to the overcome the coercive political situation, was popular. The masters officer program, which granted holders of masters degrees shorter military service requirements, led to a rise in graduate applicants and students, increasing the amount of independent academic research. As a result of university-wide efforts to place the graduate school at the center of the university, graduate education was reinforced, and the duration of studies from undergraduate to doctoral degree spanned ten years and more. Many students found spouses within the English department among fellow students. The number so-called 쏣nglish Department couples clocks in at 31 couples as of 2000.

The 1975 process of comprehensivization, which led to the expansion and reorganization of the English department, did not have only positive effects. The expansion of the English department did not follow any strict rules, and with the 20 odd professors and a majority of linguistics majors being transferred mechanically to the English department, the department could hardly be judged as well-organized, due to the miscellaneous nature of faculty specialization. During this process, the study of language and the study of literature were not organically linked, but rather divided and developed in parallel as linguistic and literary studies. Once this was established by the English department at Seoul National University, universities all over the country followed this peculiar trend of departmental cohabitation like some sort of exemplar, the responsibility for which can be said to lie largely with the Seoul National University English department.


The 1990s

The 1990s ushered another large change to the English Department. Professors Kim Han-gon (1990), Kim Jong-woon (elected President of the university in 1991), Moon Woo-sang, Kim Gwang-ho, Yang Dong-hwee (1993), Cho Byung-tae (1996), Song Nak-hun (1997), Kim In-sook (1997), Lee Byung-gun (1998), and Cho Joon-hak (1999) retired, and were replaced by a host of young faculty, including Professors Hong Ki-sun (1992), Shin Kwang-hyeon, Jung Sang-joon (1994), Yoon Hye-seok (1996; moved to the University of Illinois in 1999), Kwon Hyeok-seung, Song Mi-jung, Min Eun-kyung (1997), Cho Chul-won, Son Chang-yong, Lee Jae-young, and Lee Eun-jung (1999).

With a faculty freshly strengthened on a large scale for the second time since the 1980s, the English department was completely freed from the problems that it faced during the 1970s with the mechanical comprehensivization, and gained an opportunity to enliven the English department through reformations such as combining linguistics and literature and consolidating the curriculum. This period saw a marked increase in the trend of graduate students beginning to go abroad to study, as well as an increase in the number of excellent scholars returning to join the faculty after obtaining their degrees from abroad. Perhaps it was only natural for students to follow in their professors footsteps, but as a result, the graduate program was somewhat enervated, and feelings of dispossession came about from holders of foreign degrees receiving preferential treatment in comparison with those holding degrees from Korean universities.


The 2000s

As of the first semester of 2000, Professors Baek Nak-chung and Lee Kyung-sik, who had been with the English Department when it was a part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences back in Dongsoongdong, rejoined the department, along with the 3 professors who joined as part of the 1975 comprehensivization, the 14 professors who joined in the 1980s, and the 10 from the 1990s, totaling 29 professors. Since 1975, the position of head of the department has been held by Professors Moon Woo-sang, who held the position until February of 1977, Professors Kim Seok-san (1977.3-1978.12), Moon Sang-deuk (1979.1-1980.12), Kang Dae-gun who managed the department briefly until succeeded by Professors Jang Wang-rok (1981-1983), Cho Byung-tae (1983-1985), Song Nak-hun (1985-1987), Kim In-sook (1987-1989), Lee Sang-ok (1989-1991), Lee Byung-gun (1991-1993), Seok Kyung-jing (1993-1995), Kim Myung-ryul (1995.2-4; became head of the Center for Language Studies), Hong Ki-chang (1995; became head of the Institute for Global and Area Studies), Lee Jung-ho (1996. 1-1998. 2), Park Hee-jin (1998. 3-2000. 2) and Professor Baek Nak-chung, (2000.3-) who currently holds the title. Professors Kwon Joong-hwee (1961-1964) and Kim Jong-woon (1991.8-1995.2) from the English Department served as the 7th and 19th Presidents of Seoul National University, respectively; Professor Lee Yang-ha was the Deputy Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences from 1958 to 1960; Professor Song Wook was the College of Humanities first Dean (1975.3-1977.12), followed by Professors Kim Jong-woon (1987.7-8) and Lee Sang-ok (1993.9-1995.8). Professor Lee Sang-ok also acted as President of the Graduate School (1997-1998).

1999 marks the 23rd volume of the department셲 collection of academic papers, English Studies, and the Center for English Culture Studies has also published its yearly publication for the past 8 years. Since the end of 1999, the online 쏶eoul National University Information Forum has created an online space (CUG) for veteran and newcomer faculty members to converse openly on the objectives and processes of education and contribute to the democratic and pragmatic management of the department and the development of its future. The Graduate Newsletter has also sought to increase fraternization and communication among students. A few years ago, undergraduate students revived the tradition of English theatre performances, and the undergraduate newsletter 쏶engdong is regularly published, while the cyber department forum is also an active arena for communication.

With the current lull in the hiring of new faculty members, the English department, which has entered into a new phase of progress, faces challenges from the rapidly changing social environment. The fulfillment of the capitalist rationale has become the ultimate goal of the current wave of globalization, which is the impetus driving modern society, increasing the pressure on universities to manage themselves according to the demands of the market. Consequently, the tendency for the study of humanities to be belittled is increasing, and the English department has come under pressure to focus on teaching English as a technique to increase conversational skills. The notion that Anglophone culture at large, including popular culture and film studies should be incorporated into the English department rather than pure literature has made its way into the current debate from abroad, sparking debate among English literature scholars. In short, the department must take into account demands to reduce the costs of literary research and education while maintaining the belief that traditional literary education remains important. Today, the English department must inherit and continue the legacy of its past achievements while contributing to the creation of a positive future. In order to do so, we have begun a fundamental reexamination of our curriculum and the management of academic affairs overall.