Korea Institute Receives $1 Million to Study Country’s History

Grant from Northeast Asian History Foundation will fund academic endeavors

A new $1 million grant issued by the Northeast Asian History Foundation will focus on Korean ancient history to provide suggestions for the future direction of the country’s interactions with its neighbors.

“A strong, viable relationship is not founded on the liquidation of history, but by building viable trust,” said Yongdeok Kim, president of the Seoul-based foundation, which will dispense the grant over the five years to the Early Korea Project.

The grant will fund a series of workshops and publications, including an academic journal presenting Korean scholarship in English.

The Early Korea Project—an initiative under the Korea Institute at the Center for Government and International Studies—aims to promote and lead research of Korean history, over a period from the Paleolithic era to the 1000 AD., in the western world.

“It’s an area that has very little exposure in western academia,” said Mark E. Byington, the founder and director of the group. “That’s the challenge and that’s what I find most fascinating.”

The workshops will begin with presentations on the Han Chinese military outposts in northwestern Korea, a subject that continues to inspire discussion almost 2,000 years later.

Kim said that understanding the history of foreign relations with Korea’s neighbors—particularly with Japan—would prove vital in moving beyond the tragedies of the past.

“The soil can become fertile if the past is used as a mirror for the future, or it can remain infertile if unresolved history is left as ongoing conflict,” he said in a lecture yesterday. “Correct understanding of past history is a precondition for the good relations of future.”

Kim said that Harvard has a role to play in smoothing over the tensions that exist between Korea and its counterparts.

“Ancient history must be respected by China and Japan,” Kim said. “We need someone mediating the three fighters.”

One attendee of Kim’s lecture said that he was pleased to see Korean history gain more attention in western academia, since China and Japan have dominated research on East Asia.

“Korea has been sidelined until recently because of historical contingencies,” said Evan S. Ingram, a first year Ph.D student in medieval Japanese history.

“If they can build up the program, I think it would benefit everyone in East Asian studies.”

—Staff writer Athena Y. Jiang can be reached at ajiang@fas.harvard.edu.