Seo Du-su, Pioneer in Korean Studies

Seo Du-su was a scholar and professor who pioneered Korean studies. Before liberation from Japan in 1945, he worked as a researcher of Japanese literature.

Seo was born in 1907 in the Korean Empire. Seo entered Gyeongseong Imperial University in 1925 and graduated in 1930. After graduating from Gyeongseong Imperial University, Seo Du-su taught at Jinnampo Commerce and Industry School in 1934 as a Japanese language teacher. Around 1938, he moved to the position of Professor of Japanese Literature at Ewha Women’s Junior College. After liberation, he taught Korean literature at Yeonhee University (former Yonsei University) and Gyeongseong Imperial University.

In March 1949, he was inaugurated as the Dean of academic affairs at Seoul National University, but resigned and went to study at Columbia University in the United States that same year, receiving a doctorate in 1952. After that, he conducted research and gave lectures on the Korean language and Korean literature at Harvard University and University of Washington in Seattle, WA. He was also the person who taught Korean to Edward Wagner, the person who eventually became the first director of the Korea Institute at Harvard University, established in 1981.

Meanwhile, in November 1953, Seo Du-su formed The Korean Society of Boston with Ko Kwang-lim and became its first president. After leaving Harvard at the end of his three-year contract, Seo was hired as a visiting lecturer at the Department of Asian Languages and Literature at the University of Washington in 1955. At the University of Washington, he taught and researched the Korean language, classical Korean literature, and Korean songs.

While at University of Washington, he temporarily returned to Korea and took office as the 6th president of Sungkyunkwan University in December 1962, but resigned in June of the following year. After retiring from the University of Washington in 1977, he moved back to Boston, where his children lived, and died in 1994.