East Asia

A PhD in history focused on East Asia may be pursued in the sub-fields of modern China, modern Korea, and early modern and modern Japan. Our program has distinguished faculty in each of these areas, and our graduates hold positions in the major universities in the US and abroad. Students and faculty also work across national boundaries in the East Asian field as a whole. For instance, students in Japanese history will often have a Chinese or Korean historian on their committees (and vice versa) and our workshops and courses are often designed cross-nationally with the wider region in mind. Most faculty members also have joint appointments in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations in the Humanities Division and work closely with students and faculty in that program.

The East Asian collection in Regenstein Library, one of the finest in the country, is a major resource for our graduate students. The collection consists of over 530,000 volumes, including 340,000 volumes in Chinese, 170,000 volumes in Japanese, 18,000 in Korean, Manchu, Mongolian, and Tibetan. The Center for East Asian Studies is another important force in graduate student life. CEAS works to foster communication and cross-disciplinary collaboration among the community of students and professors at the University of Chicago and throughout the wider East Asian Studies community. It sponsors and coordinates events such as workshops, colloquia, conferences and film series and provides information to current and prospective scholars on academic programs, scholarships and other resources available within and outside the university.

Japanese History

The University of Chicago has a long and distinguished record of training graduate students in the field of Japanese history. Products of the department now hold positions in universities and colleges around the country, including Georgetown, the University of Michigan, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, UCLA, UC-Santa Barbara, UC-Santa Cruz, and UC-Irvine. Currently, our program has special strength in early modern and modern intellectual and cultural history.  James Ketelaar woks on the cultural history of Japan with particular interest in religion and intellectual life and practices. After publishing a study on religion, persecution and modernity, he is now working on frontier studies, particularly the northern and eastern edges of the archipelago, and the many attendant political, scientific, and religious and minority issues. Susan Burns works on the intellectual and cultural history of the late Tokugawa and Meiji periods. She has published a study of the early modern nativism and its relationship with modern national identity, and her current research interests include medicine and the body and gender and women’s history.

In addition to these two core faculty members, students also benefit from the opportunity to work with the other East Asian historians in the department: Guy Alitto (Chinese intellectual and social history of the twentieth century) and Bruce Cummings (modern Korea). The University of Chicago has a strong commitment to interdisciplinary research, and students are encouraged to work with the Japan faculty in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, (Norma Field, Gregory Michael Bourdaghs, Michael Raine, and Reginald Jackson) and Department of Art History (Chelsea Foxwell).

Students should be able to demonstrate at least a third-year level language competency before they join the program.

Korean History

The University of Chicago began the PhD program in modern Korean history in 1987. Former PhD students now hold positions in universities and colleges around the country and the world, including Columbia, UCLA, New York University, the University of Hawaii, Claremont-McKenna, Cambridge, and several prominent universities in Korea. Our program specializes in the modern period, and does not accept students for work on earlier periods. Bruce Cumings is the author of a two-volume study of the origins of the Korean War, and also works on Korean political economy, North Korea, American-East Asian relations, and international history. Our students also benefit from the opportunity to work with the other East Asian historians in the department: Jim Hevia (Chinese International History), Guy Alitto (Chinese intellectual and social history of the twentieth century) and James Ketelaar and Susan Burns in Japanese history. Students also work on an inter-disciplinary basis with faculty in other departments, and especially Kyeong-Hee Choi and Jong-yon Hwang, both of whom specialize in Korean literature as faculty members in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations.

Students must demonstrate an ability to read Korean fluently by the time they embark on their dissertations.

Modern China

The path leading to a PhD in Chinese history at the University of Chicago is an exciting, challenging, and we hope, a satisfying one. The two faculty directly involved in Chinese history are Prof. Guy Alitto a specialist on modern Chinese intellectual and social history and Prasenjit Duara who works on Chinese nationalism, Sino-Japanese relations, cultural history and theoretical problems in history. Dr James Hevia, a prize-winning historian of China who is the Director of the International Studies Program at the university, is also an associate member of the department. The program is ideal for a student interested in the 20th century because the faculty, who are interested in both mainstream Chinese historical issues as well as in comparative and theoretical issues, provide a comprehensive foundation for understanding the modern history of China not easily found in most other universities. Students should be able to demonstrate at least a third-year level language competency before they may join the program. Students with advanced levels of Chinese are encouraged to take classical Chinese and/or Japanese once they join.

Consistent with the interdisciplinary spirit of the university, we also encourage students to take courses and attend workshops in related areas within the department and outside, especially in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations. Within the History Department, Chinese history students also attend the classes offered by other East Asianists including Profs. Bruce Cumings, Tetsuo Najita, James Ketelaar, Susan Burns, and others. In the university as a whole, there are over twenty full-time China faculty, many of whom are among the most illustrious scholars in their fields. There are also at least four or five workshops associated with China and East Asia that run every year (see below) which have been critical to the development of an intellectual community among China students and faculty from different disciplines.

We have maintained a small student enrollment in the history program every year. This is partly because of the rigorous competition for funding in the department and partly because of the job market. After the first year in the program, students also become eligible for a variety of other funding opportunities for summer travel, language learning, and teaching and writing fellowships both from the History department and the Center for East Asian Studies at appropriate stages of their career.

Our students have also worked on a great variety of topics, and have done very well in the academic market. Our graduates have positions at Stanford, University of Michigan, Columbia, University of Wisconsin and many other schools in the US and abroad. In recent years they have worked on such topics as "Overseas Chinese in Peru, Hawaii, and Chicago" written by Adam McKeown who now teaches at Columbia University, NYC. Another recent Ph.D, Lam Tong works on the "surveys" and discourse of social science in China. He is an Assistant Professor at the University of Richmond. Shi-chi Lan who has just completed a Ph.D on relations between Taiwan and China in the 1930s and 1940s has taken a job with Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Current students are working on subjects such as the Jesus Society and post-Taiping Christianity, conceptions and the practice of historical writing, and on figures such as Zhang Taiyan, Yan Fu and others.