Eugene Irving Knez, 1916–2010

The fac­ul­ty and staff of the Cen­ter for Kore­an Stud­ies note with sad­ness the pass­ing of Eugene I. Knez on June 5, 2010. After retir­ing from his post as an anthro­pol­o­gist with the Smith­son­ian Insti­tu­tion in 1978, Knez made his home in Hon­olu­lu and was for many years a fre­quent par­tic­i­pant in the Center’s activ­i­ties. He pre­sent­ed the Cen­ter his per­son­al library of sev­er­al hun­dred vol­umes reflect­ing his broad inter­est in all regions of Asia.

The short bio­graph­i­cal sketch below was pre­pared by Frank Joseph Shul­man ( based on his forth­com­ing A Cen­tu­ry of Doc­tor­al Dis­ser­ta­tions on Korea, 1903–2004 and oth­er sources.


Eugene I. Knez, 94, a cura­tor of Asian anthro­pol­o­gy at the Smith­son­ian Institution’s Nation­al Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., between 1959 and 1979, died of a heart ail­ment in Hon­olu­lu on June 5, 2010. Accord­ing to the Wash­ing­ton Post (June 11, 2010, page B7), in the course of his work there, he estab­lished the museum’s first per­ma­nent Asian exhi­bi­tions and over­saw the acqui­si­tion of Hin­du and Bud­dhist sculp­tures. In addi­tion, in 1977, he pre­pared a trav­el­ing exhi­bi­tion enti­tled “Kore­an Vil­lage in Tran­si­tion” which toured the Unit­ed States and Cana­da over a three-year long peri­od.

Dr. Knez was born on May 12, 1916, as Eugene Ish­mael Kneze­vich in Clin­ton, Indi­ana. He changed his name ear­ly in life, grad­u­at­ed from the Uni­ver­si­ty of New Mex­i­co in 1941, and served in the U.S. Army dur­ing World War II. After the war, as an Amer­i­can mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment offi­cer in Seoul, he was assigned to admin­is­ter the nation­al cul­tur­al and sci­en­tif­ic agen­cies in South Korea. There he estab­lished the Nation­al Muse­um of Anthro­pol­o­gy (which sub­se­quent­ly became the Nation­al Folk Muse­um of Korea) in 1946.

As part of his doc­tor­al degree stud­ies in Anthro­pol­o­gy at Syra­cuse Uni­ver­si­ty, Dr. Knez com­plet­ed a Ph.D. dis­ser­ta­tion in 1959 enti­tled “Sam Jong Dong: A South Kore­an Vil­lage”. This dis­ser­ta­tion is an ethno­graph­ic pre­sen­ta­tion of cul­tur­al behav­ior in Samjŏng-dong (Sam­jeong­dong), a vil­lage in the Kimhae region of Kyŏngsang-namdo (Gimhae region of Gyeongsangnam-do), that is pri­mar­i­ly based upon field­work that he pur­sued dur­ing the win­ter of 1951–52 while serv­ing as U.S. Cul­tur­al Affairs Offi­cer in Seoul. Knez focused on the “facets of vil­lage life that were asso­ci­at­ed main­ly with its geo­graph­i­cal set­ting, its his­tor­i­cal antecedents, the inter­play of some social fac­tors, and its val­ue ori­en­ta­tion as expressed in eth­i­cal and reli­gious behav­ior”. Among these were its social class­es, mar­i­tal rites, social­iza­tion, schools, are­na and stage activ­i­ties, ances­tor cult, death and bur­ial prac­tices, shamans, geo­mancers, gob­lins and such types of house­hold imple­ments as lanterns, con­tain­ers, knives, cook­ing equip­ment, agri­cul­tur­al tools, sieves, and fish traps.

Among his pub­li­ca­tions are the fol­low­ing:

Han’guk illyuhak e kwan­han munhŏn mong­nok = A Select­ed and Anno­tat­ed Bib­li­og­ra­phy of Kore­an Anthro­pol­o­gy, by Eugene Irv­ing Knez and Chang-su Swan­son. Sŏul, 1968. 235p. [Reviewed in the Jour­nal of Asian Stud­ies 29, no.3 (May 1970): 708–709.

Han iban­gin Å­i Han’guk sarang: han Migu­g­in Å­i chŏnmang: Han’guk munhwa chunghÅ­ng Å­l wihan sido, by Yujin K’Å­nejÅ­. Sŏul: Kung­nip Chun­gang Pang­mul­gwan, 1997. 109p. [On the pro­tec­tion of cul­tur­al prop­er­ty in Korea]

The Mod­ern­iza­tion of Three Kore­an Vil­lages, 1951–81: An Illus­trat­ed Study of a Peo­ple and Their Mate­r­i­al Cul­ture, by Eugene I. Knez. Wash­ing­ton, D.C.: Smith­son­ian Insti­tu­tion Press, 1997. xi, 216p. (Smith­son­ian con­tri­bu­tions to anthro­pol­o­gy, no.39)

A brief arti­cle about him was pub­lished as “Eugene Knez and Korea and Kore­an Stud­ies: Some Bio­graph­i­cal High­lights, 1945–1985” in the Kore­an and Korean-American Stud­ies Bul­letin (New Haven, Conn.) 1, nos.2–3 (Winter-Spring 1984–1985): 10–12.

The per­son­al papers of Eugene I. Knez are now housed in the Nation­al Anthro­po­log­i­cal Archives of the Smith­son­ian Insti­tu­tion in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.