Site icon Javier Cha


“What we determine to be our tradition is up to us to decide,” said one of my mentors. This message changed the way that I think about teaching East Asian history and culture to a diverse student body.

Historical training provides us with powerful and robust conceptual tools for navigating the rich tapestry of our globalized and multicultural society. My goal is to guide my students in making better sense of the complexities of the human condition through Korea, and, conversely, to treat Korea as a valuable resource for building and reflecting on our cosmopolitan culture.

My courses are designed to cater a wide array of student backgrounds and existing familiarity. Whenever appropriate, I situate the Korean peninsula in the broader continental, maritime, and global contexts, highlighting both shared and exceptional characteristics of the Korean experience in the ebb and flow of world civilizations. In both preindustrial and modern times, paramount were the movements of people, goods, and ideas within the peninsula and the wider world without. The Korean reception of the Confucian tradition cannot be adequately explained without exploring the impact and legacies of the Mongol empire, and would be profoundly enriched through comparisons with the spread of Islam in Central Eurasia and the rise of Renaissance humanism in Europe. My goal is to paint Korea as an always-changing product of historical processes and a long-standing participant in a world that has been interconnected since early times.

The past changes with the present. Which or whose past we choose to study is up to us to decide. My classes are a venue where I demonstrate what Korea means to me and to my student who, for whatever reason, took interest in Korea. My job is to share what I know and help my students develop their intellectual faculties and interpretive skills such that Korea becomes something more than an object of fascination. As I do in my own projects, my students will learn how to reason in cross-temporal and trans-cultural manners, which, hopefully, will contribute to the building of societies that are inclusive and multicultural, reflective as well as forward-thinking.

Syllabi and Outlines

Society and Thought in Korea

This course examines the rich intellectual and religious traditions of Korea in a loose chronological order. Topics range from origin myths in early states to the reception of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Catholicism during the medieval and early modern eras, as well as the advent of Protestant Christianity, nationalism, and new religions in modern times. Students will be introduced to the basic tenets of each tradition and trained to engage with a selection of primary texts in translation in a contextualized, critical, and self-reflective manner.

– AY 2014/15 @ HKU

History of the Korean Civilization: Early Times to 1800

This course surveys the history of the Korean civilization from the early times to 1800. We will explore the ebb and flow of preindustrial Korea while reading closely a selection of important primary sources. Students will be trained to think critically and constructively about the dominant historiographical positions, both traditional and modern, that has informed the field. [outline]

– AY 2014/15 @ HKU

Orientalism and Occidentalism

– AY 2014/15 @ HKU

Introduction to Premodern Korean Literature and Culture

This course surveys the literary and cultural traditions in the Korean peninsula from antiquity to 1800. We will read closely a selection of canonical works in translation, develop awareness for the mediating influence of later interpretations, and understand the texts as a product of their social, intellectual, and cultural milieu. Students will be encouraged to think critically about conceptual divides such as native/foreign, Sinitic/Korean, written/oral, and elite/popular. [outline]

Cultural History of Medieval and Early Modern Korea

In this course, we will examine key topics in the cultural history of Korea between 1000 and 1800, including collective identity, technologies of knowledge production and dissemination, and engagements with the outside world. Most assigned readings are provided in translation. Graduate students are expected to contribute translations from original language sources. Students will receive training in historical methods for interpreting past cultures. [outline]

Foundations of Social and Political Thought in Early Modern East Asia

The collapse of the Tang empire in 907 marked a sea change in East Asian societies previously under its hegemony. The ensuing social, political, and diplomatic challenges prompted intellectuals to produce a wealth of writings reinterpreting the classical Confucian tradition in novel ways. This body of work, in turn, laid the intellectual foundation for discussions on the nature of good government, the social order, diplomatic relations, as well as culture and the arts in East Asia between 1100 and 1800.

This course provides an overview of major works in neoclassical Confucian thought including Han Yu, Ouyang Xiu, Su Shi, Zhu Xi, and their intellectual heirs in China, Korea, and Japan. We will read closely a selection of important writings organized by theme, while paying attention to historical contexts, conceptual frameworks, and rhetorical strategies. Students are expected to write a short interpretive essay on each of the three major subject areas. [outline]

Data Visualization and Analytics in East Asian Studies

The ubiquitous encounter with digitized and born-digital sources has become a quotidian experience for the present-day researcher of East Asian studies. What are the implications of the ongoing “digital turn” in the humanities? In what ways does our age of information abundance influence the craft, modes, and expectations of research in our trade?

This lab course introduces students to visual and exploratory analysis of humanities data germane to East Asia, both preindustrial and modern, offering technical training and critical reflections in three modules. The initial sessions begin with discussions about the burgeoning meta-discipline known as “the digital humanities” and we will examine the meteoric rise and pervasive presence of “the digital” in East Asian societies. We then will proceed with lab sessions on the management, visualization, and analytics of various types of humanities data. In the final module, the focus will shift to methodological ruminations about the virtues and shortcomings of computational methods. [outline]

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