FAQ for Prospective Graduate Students
interested in premodern Korean history
Updated for December 2022
Only applies to those interested in studying Premodern Korean history with me at the PhD level in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures @ UCLA
The answers here reflect my PERSONAL thoughts on the INTELLECTUAL direction of the field, my current status, and my own reflections on what is viable. They do not represent UCLA policy or department policy. For questions on these matters, as well as procedural and institutional matters, please see our department webpage: https://www.alc.ucla.edu/
As you consider graduate studies, also consider Perry’s (1968) ideas of “intellectual and ethical development.” Where are you on this ladder? What stage is necessary for graduate studies and (perhaps) a subsequent career in academia?
FAQ updated December 2022
Q. Are you accepting PhD Students?
A. Yes, but admissions, as always, is competitve
Q. What kind of projects are you interested in advising?
A. Premodern Korean history is basically a wide-open field in Anglophone academia. I am interested in projects that demonstrate the potential to:
- Develop a new paradigm for thinking about Korea’s past
- Bring premodern Korean studies into dialogue with other area fields
- Think about connections between Korea’s premodern past and Korea’s present that goes beyond intellectual historiography
- Approach premodern Korean history in ways that uses underused source material, uses commonly-used source material creatively, uses a variety of source material in unconventional ways
Q. What skills should a candidate have?
A. Competence in Korean and literary/classical Chinese are a must. Solid research skills in the humanities or social sciences and ability to write about the subject in English. Graduate training can help develop or mitigate weaknesses in one of the four areas above, but not all four.
I also think robust experience with one other “discipline” would be very helpful: e.g. a STEM field, another historical area, another literary tradition, professional experience (finance, comp sci, NGO, publishing, diplomacy, fieldwork, missionary work, military deployment etc. etc.)
Q. What kind of questions and topics have you been thinking about and wish there were PhD students studying?
A. Lots. not in order of value/interest. Just things I’ve been thinking about.
- Computational approaches to modeling and simulating Chosŏn dynasty social strategies
- “Vernacular” political theology: Chosŏn’s subaltern perspectives on political order and what it entails
- Cultural history approaches to Korean science and knowledge
- Korea’s seas and mountains
- A non-linear, non-positivist (e.g. economic progress-oriented) treatment of premodern Korea’s economic history; something that takes seriously non-monetary institutions, vernacular practices of social and economic organization.
- Cultural-intellectual history of the mid to late nineteenth century that isn’t a history of “failure” or modernity. Something that works with hanmun sources…
- The scholarship of Chosŏn writers etc. found in their commentaries of the Confucian classics.
- Something that genuinely surprises me.
- Thinking about Korean connections with the world that don’t rely on the concept of “tributary system.” Yes, I know my research has been oriented around Chosŏn-Ming relations, but do realize its whole point is to try to get us out of that “box.” So if you want to do a project, however brilliant and worthwhile, in that “box,” I’m just not going to be interested in advising. There are other places to go for this. FWIW, here is a reading list for early modern Sino-Korean relations (update July 8, 2023)