Korean Studies MSt

Goryeo dynasty Bodhisattva. Photograph by Joop Dorresteijn. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

This course aims to build on a basic knowledge of modern Korean and classical Chinese or modern Japanese. The MSt aims:

  • to build your capability in using at least modern Korean for research purposes;
  • to acquaint you with many of the most important classical texts from Korean history, in modern Korean translation or the original Classical Chinese or Old or Middle Korean;
  • to enable you to understand and use a range of classical references and historiographical and linguistic research methods for the treatment of primary sources; and
  • to allow you to engage in specialised study from a wide range of options and exercise your new skills.

You should expect to attend up to ten hours per week of tutorials and should expect to spend an additional thirty to forty hours a week, perhaps more, during each full term for preparation. In addition, you should expect to be set a considerable amount of work during the vacations.

Language instruction, the reading of prescribed texts, and bibliographic or methodological exercises are usually conducted in tutorials for which you are expected to prepare thoroughly in advance. Lectures are provided for instruction on general themes of Korean and East Asian history and critical issues in contemporary and classical Korean linguistics. You are advised to take advantage of public lectures offered on China and Japan, since they also supply historical context, comparative linguistic information, regional background, and comparative perspectives for work in tutorials.

Teaching takes place in tutorials. You are required to prepare thoroughly for whatever is required: language exercises, prescribed readings, essays, bibliographic or methodological exercises, and you should be able to present your preparation in finished form. Depending on the task, the finished form may be written language exercises, essays on linguistics, historical, literary, or cultural topics, or translation from Korean (or Chinese or Japanese) into English.

Outstanding students typically view themselves as ‘researchers in training’ and consciously set about building their competence in the body of secondary reference materials available (in Korean, English, Chinese and Japanese) as an additional aspect of tutorial preparation.


Candidates are required to submit a thesis of not more than 15,000 words on a topic approved by the Board of the Faculty of  Oriental Studies. The thesis deadline is the end of the sixth week of the third term. The last time you are able to consult your supervisor for the thesis is one month before the due date.

Aside from the thesis, the course is examined by two timed examinations to be sat at the end of the third term, and one examination to be completed in the Bodleian Library as a take-home examination, also at the end of the third term.

Examinations will be in the following three areas:

  • Prescribed texts;
  • Either Modern Korean unprepared translation or Classical Chinese or Modern Japanese;*
  • Methodologies for Classical Koreanology; or
  • Korean Linguistics

* Candidates who already possess a sufficient knowledge of Modern Korean will be required to choose Classical Chinese or Modern Japanese.

All examination papers and the thesis will be reviewed by examiners, one of whom is from outside the University You will be examined viva voce unless you have been individually excused by the examiners or by the Board of the Faculty of Oriental Studies.

The examiners ordinarily award a pass/fail mark but may award a merit or distinction grade for excellence in the whole examination. A distinction grade should be viewed as a strong recommendation to continue research at the DPhil level.

Further information on the course, and the examination process, can be found in the course handbook here (information is current for the academic year of publication).

Graduates from this degree have gone on to pursue doctoral research in Oxford and elsewhere and some now hold academic posts in leading universities in the UK, Europe and Korea.

Others have gone directly into business, finance, law, civil service, journalism, government and industry.


The Bodleian Library possesses a large collection on Korea. The library currently holds about 36,000 volumes in Korean, 15,000 volumes in other languages, and about 1,000 Japanese-language volumes on Korea as well as about 100 volumes of pre-modern Korean books, and a small collection of manuscripts. It also holds 400 journal titles.

The Bodleian Library also possesses various special collections: the earliest translations of the New Testament into Korean by John Ross in the 1880s; the Bishop Mark Trollope collection with a painted procession (ŭigwe 儀軌) of the funeral of King Yŏngjo (英祖1694–1776) and various sixteenth to nineteenth-century printed Korean texts; the Monsignor Richard Rutt collection composing some 2,000 items, and a collection of recently published books and reproduced manuscripts (112 titles in 400 volumes) from the Kyujanggak Royal Library, presented by Dr Lee Jang-Moo, President of Seoul National University in 2009.

The ‘Window on Korea’ project, sponsored by the National Library of Korea, provided the Bodleian Library with around 4,000 volumes in 2012 and has provided 200 volumes per year since then, with a recent renewal of the agreement until 2022.

The National Library of Korea also provided funding to help create a Korean Studies Library with an audio-visual seminar room at the Oriental Institute Library. The National Library of Korea support provides the opportunity to expand the collection as well as bringing all necessary Korean materials (reference, newspapers, teaching, audio-visual, and research materials) into one location at the Oriental Institute. Oxford has now the largest Korean collection in the United Kingdom and is one of the very few places in Europe to have a dedicated library to the study of Korea.

Adjacent to the Oriental Institute is the Ashmolean Museum, which houses superb collections, including some rare and important Korean artefacts from antiquity to the present. Also nearby, the Sackler Library houses the Eastern Art Library, which includes the Korean collection of arts and archaeology; the Weston Library houses the Korean collection of premodern books and manuscripts. The Bodleian Library also has subscription to e-Korean Studies, which includes the Korean studies Information Service System (KISS) and eight other databases: DBpia, KRpia, KSI e-book, NK News, NK Pro, Chosun Ilbo Archive (1920-), and Donga Ilbo Archive (1920-).

In addition to this, there are a number of other specialist library collections in Oxford that focus on Oriental studies, such as:

The Khalili Research Centre is the University of Oxford's centre for research and teaching in the art and material culture of the Islamic societies of the Middle East and of non-Muslim members and neighbours

You will also have access to the University's centrally provided electronic resources, the department's IT Officer and other bibliographic, archive or material sources as appropriate to the research topic. There is a computing room for the use of graduate students in the Oriental Institute, as well as a common room where tea and coffee are available and staff and students can meet.

Sources of funding

Applications recieved for this course by the January deadline will also be considered for funding if applications fulfill the eligibility criteria. Please use the University's fees, funding and scholarship search tool to find what funding you may be eligible for.

The Faculty has a number of scholarships and funding opportunities across a wide range of subjects. Please see here for a list of these opportunities.

The Faculty of Oriental Studies has a number of scholarship and funding opportunities across a wide range of subjects. Please see here for a list of these opportunities.

Use the University's fees, funding and scholarship search tool to see what funding you might be eligible for. Apply by the January deadline to be automatically considered for most funding.