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 (email@example.com) 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 SamjÅng-dong (Samjeongdong), a village in the Kimhae region of KyÅngsang-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 munhÅn mongnok = A Selected and Annotated Bibliography of Korean Anthropology, by Eugene Irving Knez and Chang-su Swanson. SÅul, 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 chÅnmang: Han’guk munhwa chunghÅng Ål wihan sido, by Yujin K’ÅnejÅ. SÅul: 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.