History of the Department

A Brief History of EALC and Asian Studies at Harvard

Chinese language was first taught at Harvard during a span of three years, from 1879 to 1882, by Chinese scholar Ge Kunhua (pictured at left) but was not taught on a regular basis until 1921. In 1928, through the generous bequest of Charles Martin Hall the Harvard-Yenching Institute was formed in partnership with China's Yenching University, laying a strong foundation for Harvard's commitment to the study of Asia.

Harvard began to offer Japanese language instruction on a regular basis in 1931. In 1937 Chinese and Japanese instruction, previously offered in the Department of Semitic Languages and History, found a more appropriate home in the newly created Department of Far Eastern Languages (also referred to at the time as the Division of Far Eastern Languages.) In 1941, the Department of Far Eastern Languages offered its first Ph.D., jointly with the Department of History.

Most Ph.D.degrees awarded in Far Eastern Languages between 1941 and 1972 were in fact joint degrees in History and Far Eastern Languages. In 1939 the undergraduate course "History of East Asian Civilization" was offered for the first time.

The course began to be offered yearly in 1946 and included a one semester introduction to Chinese civilization taught by John King Fairbank and one semester on Japan taught by Edwin O. Reischauer. These courses are taught to this day, currently as Societies of the World 12 and 13, China: Tradition and Transformation and Japan in Asia and the World, respectively. In 1972 the department changed its name from Far Eastern Languages to East Asian Languages and Civilizations.

In the same year, the Council on East Asian Studies was created to oversee an undergraduate concentration in East Asian Studies. Between 1972 and 1990 undergraduates interested in East Asia could select between concentrations in East Asian Studies, which focused on social science and EALC which concerned itself with the humanities. In 1990 the undergraduate concentrations were joined into one program under the auspices of the Department.