The Center for Korean Research (CKR) was established in 1988, as part of the East Asian Institute (now the Weatherhead East Asian Institute). The CKR was founded with the support of the Korean Committee for the Promotion of Korean Studies at Columbia University and continued to expand with the generous support of Myoung- Soo Shin, POSCO TJ Park Foundation, the Korea Foundation, and Columbia University Alumni Association of Korea. Since 1988, it has played a leading role in the study of Korea within Columbia University, the New York City area, and beyond. CKR has helped to bring focus to Korea within the university’s East Asian studies programs, other disciplinary departments and the professional schools. By sponsoring public lectures, conferences, workshops, and cultural events on Korea-related topics, the CKR works to advance academic knowledge and a greater public awareness of Korea.
Long before the establishment of the CKR, Columbia University already had a thriving academic relationship with Korea. As early as the 1920s, Columbia University had been a destination for students and scholars from Korea. Among the most notable from this generation of pioneers was Kim Hwallan, who graduated with a Ph.D. in Philosophy in 1931. Not only was she the first Korean woman to earn a doctoral degree, Kim went on to become one of the most important champions of education, women's rights, and Korean independence in Korea's modern history. Now, Columbia University is not only a major destination for international students from Korea, but also, through the CKR, a host institution for visiting scholars, professionals, and writers from Korea.
The year of Kim Hwallan’s graduation, 1931, also witnessed the inception of the university libraries’ now extensive Korean collection. With their donation of Korean books to Columbia, Korean students in the New York area helped establish a Korean Library and Culture Center. This donation became the basis of what would later become the Korean Collection of the C.V. Starr East Asian Library. Over the 20th century, the library’s Korean collection steadily expanded, with holdings of over 40,000 volumes by 1990. The collection has continued to grow over the past decades. As of June 2012, the collection boasts 82,000 monographs, 500 periodicals and 1,400 non-book formats, in addition to over 700 titles in the Korean rare books and special collections.
Korean Studies first became a formal part of Columbia’s curricular offerings in 1950, when Dr. Eungpal Yun, Minister of the Korean Methodist in New York taught the first Korean language course. In 1960, Columbia offered its first Korean Civilization course. Taught first by visiting scholars Peter H. Lee and later by William E. Skillend, this course prefigured the steady growth of academic interest in Korea at Columbia University over the next few decades. Another major turning point for Korean Studies at Columbia was when the Department of Chinese and Japanese Studies was renamed to East Asian Languages and Cultures in 1964, giving Korean Studies official recognition within the university. From 1964 until 2000, the Korean Studies program grew steadily through the efforts of Gari Ledyard, who taught a range of courses covering linguistics, history, and literature. In the 1970s, the Korean language program took its present form. The establishment of CKR with the help of the Korean Research Foundation in 1988 came along with an expansion of course offerings and programs in the social sciences. By the academic year of 1992–1993, 14 Korea related courses were offered in various departments. Thanks to the Korea Foundation, the King Sejong Professorship was established in 1994. Eventually, two more professorships were established, one in the social sciences and one in the humanities. With three full-time professorships, Columbia University has become one of the leading Korean Studies centers in the United States.