Professor Kim Yung Sik, an Institution Builder in the History of Science in Korea (by Jongtae Lim)

Volume 11, Issue 1
Our advisory editorial board member Professor Kim Yung Sik (金永植) has been retired for four years now from Seoul National University, where he founded and for three decades was the center of its Interdisciplinary Program in History and Philosophy of Science. A leading figure of the Korean STS community, Professor Kim has been part of EASTS since its birth and helped establish its reputation in the history of science and technology in East Asia. The introduction he wrote for our special issue “Specialized Knowledge in Traditional East Asian Contexts” (vol. 4, no. 2: 179–83) ably set out his ideas on leading STS thinking toward a better understanding of how East Asian science and technology were perceived and practiced in the past. Even after his retirement, Professor Kim is academically active and still serves as our advisory board member. The following introduction is written by our editorial board member Jongtae Lim, one of Professor Kim's outstanding disciples at Seoul National University and currently the editor of the Korean Journal for the History of Science.
EASTS Editorial Office

When the Korean Journal for the History of Science dedicated its forum in the April 2013 issue to Professor Kim Yung Sik to honor his retirement earlier that year, it was titled “Institution Builder.” At first sight, this seems to have fallen short of representing the depth and breadth of Professor Kim's career as a prominent scholar in the history of science in East Asia. It fails to reflect, for instance, his significant role as one of the world's leading scholars of the history of Chinese science. With his groundbreaking works on scientific ideas in premodern China, particularly those of Zhu Xi (朱熹), Professor Kim, together with other brilliant scholars of his days, pioneered a post-Needham phase of the field. From 1999 to 2002 he also served as president of the International Society for the History of East Asian Science, Technology, and Medicine. Focusing on his career in Korea, however, “Institution Builder” aptly captures arguably the most significant role Professor Kim played in the advancement of the history of science in his country.

Professor Kim's academic career in Korea began in 1977, when he became a chemistry professor at Seoul National University. A brilliant theoretical chemist trained at Harvard, and a Princeton PhD candidate in the history of science, Professor Kim by returning to Korea added new vigor to the Korean History of Science Society, which had been developing into a small but vibrant community of historians of science under the leadership of a few visionary pioneers, including Jeon Sang-woon (全相運) and Song Sang-yong (宋相庸, an advisory board member of EASTS). Professor Kim soon became one of the leading members of the society and served as its secretary, editor in chief, and finally president. But the most prominent contribution he made to the field might have been his effort to reshape it into an academic profession in its own right, and he did so by setting a solid educational foundation for the history of science.

In 1983 Professor Kim, together with the renowned physicist cum philosopher Zhang Hwe Ik (張會翼), established the Interdisciplinary Program in History and Philosophy of Science in the Graduate School of Seoul National University. This HPS program was the first academic institution in Korea for higher, professional education in the history and philosophy of science and was to be the only one for over a decade to come. For thirty years thereafter, Professor Kim dedicated himself to teaching in this program, putting strenuous effort into making it a center of excellence that would provide professional training of an international caliber. To achieve this high scholarly aim, he created a rigorous system of education, partly adopting the model of the Princeton HPS department, where he had studied under the guidance of such renowned scholars as Charles C. Gillispie and Thomas S. Kuhn. Professor Kim's devotion, together with his academic reputation and personal charm, attracted many ambitious students to the program. Like his mentors at Princeton, Professor Kim proved his talent as a great teacher, transforming the smart but strong-minded Korean students into disciplined researchers with high academic standards in terms of both creativity and self-reflection.

By 2013, the year of Professor Kim's retirement and the program's thirtieth anniversary, the program had produced a total of thirty-two PhDs, seventeen of whom had had Professor Kim as their supervisor. Many more who earned a master's degree under his guidance went abroad to further their study in renowned PhD programs in the United States and other countries. The younger generation of scholars, often called “Kim's legion,” have mostly become teachers and researchers in universities and research institutes in Korea, making the field of history of science a thriving discipline in Korean academia. Some of them became capable institution builders, notably Hong Sungook (洪性旭, EASTS's former associate editor and an advisory board member) and Park Buhm Soon (朴範淳), who followed in their teacher's footsteps and founded, respectively, the STS major in the Seoul National University Program and the Graduate School of Science and Technology Policy at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in the mid-2000s. In this sense, the recent development of STS and science policy in Korea is indebted, albeit indirectly, to Professor Kim's intellectual legacy.

Perhaps the role of great institution builder in the history of science does not do full justice to Professor Kim's achievement as one of Korea's greatest scholars and leading intellectuals. He has produced, and continues to produce, important works on the history of science in premodern Korea. He also made a great contribution to strengthening Korean studies while serving as director of the Kyujanggak Institute for Korean Studies (奎章閣韓國學硏究院). Bridging the “two cultures”—science and the humanities—in Korea has been his lifelong cultural agenda, a self-imposed calling to serve his own country with his professional insight as a historian of science. There are many great scholars, but it is rare to find one who is also a great teacher and a dedicated institution builder. Professor Kim is certainly one of those remarkable exceptions.

Professor Kim Yung Sik at the Laurentian Medical Library (Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana) in Florence,Italy, in 2015

Professor Kim Yung Sik at the Laurentian Medical Library (Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana) in Florence,Italy, in 2015

Celebrating EASTS's second decade in Boston

Founded in 2007, EASTS will be ushering in its second decade with celebrations during the annual meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) in Boston, from 30 August to 2 September 2017. Former editors in chief, associate editors, and editorial members will be joining the current editorial team to share their efforts in making EASTS an East Asian brand for STS and a gateway for global STS understanding of East Asia. Don't forget to mark your calendar—we look forward to seeing you all in Boston!

For more information on the activities, follow the EASTS Facebook page: We'll be uploading details as soon as they are settled.


1 This session was organized by Togo Tsukahara and chaired by Morris Low. Panelists were Tessa Morris-Suzuki, Sharon Traweek, Sun Xiaochun, and Sungook Hong (presented on his behalf by Yi Dugap). An online video is available at

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