Carter J. Eckert was born in Chicago and trained in European ancient and medieval history at Lawrence College in Wisconsin, and also at Harvard. He subsequently developed a strong interest in Korea and East Asia as a result of his experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Seoul in the late 1960s and 1970s. After several years of working and studying in Korea, he returned to the United States for doctoral study in Korean and Japanese history at the University of Washington, Seattle. Since 1985 he has been teaching modern Korean history at Harvard, including a popular undergraduate course called “The Two Koreas,” and working to build up the Harvard Korean studies program. In addition to developing the undergraduate Korean studies program, Eckert has also trained numerous graduate students, many of whom are now heading major Korean studies programs in North America and other parts of the world.
For eleven years, from 1993 to 2004, Eckert served as the director of the Korea Institute at Harvard and presided over a major financial and academic expansion that transformed the Institute into one of the Harvard’s most active and respected international studies centers. In recognition of his scholarship and service, in July 2004 the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) appointed Eckert as the first Yoon Se Young Professor of Korean History. As Yoon Se Young Professor and a continuing member of the Institute’s Executive Committee, Eckert has been actively engaged in enhancing the study of Korean history at Harvard, through the introduction of new courses and the promotion of dialogue and exchange with scholars working on Korean history throughout the world, including China, Japan, Europe, and, of course Korea itself. Eckert is also deeply committed to promoting undergraduate study abroad at Harvard, and served as director of the Harvard Summer School’s Korea Program in 2007, as well as a chairman of Harvard’s Faculty Committee on Education Abroad.
Eckert is the author of Offspring of Empire: The Colonial Origins of Korean Capitalism 1876-1945, which received the John K. Fairbank Prize in East Asian History from the American Historical Association, as well as the John Whitney Hall Book Prize from the Association for Asian Studies. He is also a co-author of Korea Old and New: A History, a widely-used university textbook on Korean history. He also co-edited a book on the economic development of the Republic of Korea with Professor Lee-Jay Cho of the University of Hawaii. In 1996-97 he was a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, D.C. Currently he is engaged a study of Korean militarization and the rise of Korean militarism, including its connections with South Korean national “modernization” (kŭndaehwa) as conceived and carried out under the regime of late president Park Chung Hee. The first volume of this study, Park Chung Hee and Modern Korea: The Roots of Militarism 1866-1945 was published by Harvard University Press in 2016. In recognition of this work, Eckert was awarded a Walter Channing Cabot Fellowship by Harvard University in 2017.
Over the years Eckert has also been active in the larger field of Korean studies outside Harvard. As director of the Korea Institute, he played an important role in bringing international scholars in Korean studies to Harvard and in helping to promote Korean studies programs in other countries, including Europe and Latin America. He has served as chairman of the Committee on Korean Studies for the Association for Asian Studies and on many other boards and committees related to the promotion of scholarship on Korea and the enhancement of US.-Korean relations, including the Social Science Research Council, the Korea Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Asia Society, and the Korea Society. In 1998 he received an honorary appointment as Adjunct Professor of Yanji University of Science and Technology in China, and in 2004 he was appointed Honorary Distinguished Professor of Ewha University in Seoul. In 2004 the Korea Foundation also honored Eckert with a special award commemorating his eleven years of service as director of the Korea Institute at Harvard.