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The history of the Nam Center for Korean Studies can be traced back to 1984 when students, faculty, and members of the Korean-American community started organizing to establish formal instruction in Korean studies at the University of Michigan.  Through their efforts, the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA) established a series of Korean language courses in 1990 as the first step in the development of Korean Studies at the University.

The Korean Studies Program was officially founded in 1995 with the help of faculty members in the school of Literature, Science, and the Arts, especially the late Harold K. Jacobson, with efforts from the International Institute, Ann Arbor area Korean-American alums, university students, and with financial support from the Korea Foundation.  

Elder Sang-Yong Nam, a University of Michigan alumnus, and Mrs. Moon-Sook Nam have made it a lifelong mission to build recognition and respect for the history and culture of their homeland. Their substantial gift provides the resources to propel Korean studies to national prominence and upgraded the Korean Studies Program to the Center for Korean Studies in 2007. The Nam Center for Korean Studies was inaugurated on August 31, 2010.

The Nam Center conducts research in collaboration with various departments within LSA, as well as different schools and academic units including various area centers within the International Institute.