In 1964 Sinologist Werner Eichhorn founded the "Seminar for Eastasian Philology" at the Faculty for Classical and Cultural studies at the University of Tuebingen, consisting of the department of Sinology and the department of Japanese and Korean studies. Despite the lack of personell in the field of Korean studies, language classes and basic lectures were given in that field. Following the holding of the academic chair for Eastasian Philology by Professor Tilemann Grimm in 1974 the Eastasian studies department was widely expanded. The existing chair for Sinology was followed up by the chair for Japanese studies in 1975 and the chair for Korean studies in 1979, to which Professor Dieter Eikemeier was appointed. Due to reorganization of the departments, the department of Korean studies and the department of Sinology formed the Seminar of Chinese and Korean studies, under the management of Prof. Eikemeier. During the wintersemester of 1981/82 Master-Degree programmes were established for Korean studies Majors and Minors.
Between 1979 and 2003 the department had a ethnological approach, placing it's focus on rural communities and folk religion. Under the management of Prof. Eikemeier an extensive Korean studies library was constructed.
During this time Korean studies was regarded as a niche-field and had a very low count of student even among less popular programmes. Thus, during the wintersemester of 1986/87 153 students enrolled in Japanese studies and 286 enrolled in Chinese studies, while only 21 enrolled in Korean studies. On the background of the Solidarity Pact and the austerity measures, this let to the decision of the University board to close down the Korean studies department following the year of 1997. With the retirement of Prof. Eikemeier in 2003 Korean studies was removed from the list programmes at Tuebingen University.
This decision was controvesial from the beginning and was criticized by the departments of Japanese and Chinese studies, which were rapidly expanding at the time. Under the management of director of the department of Chinsese and Korean studies, Professor Hans Ulrich Vogel (Sinology), a decision was made to keep the Korean studies staff employed and to continue to offer Korean studies as a Minor. With the support of the Japanese and Chinese studies department, as well as funds from the Academy of Korean Studies and the Korea Foundation, Dr. Moon-Ey Song was able to maintain a small curriculum in the field of Korean studies. The Master-degree Minor-programme was replaced by a Bachelor-degree Minor-programme in 2004.
With the founding of the Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies in 2008 an institutional restructuring of the cooperation between Asian and Oriental studies was decided. Chinese and Korean studies were incorporated into the newly formed institute as a joined department to represent the field-specific interests as a separate department inside the Faculty of Cultural studies. In the same year, the University board decided, due to the continuing efforts by the Eastasian studies department, to reintroduce a professorship for Korean studies. This decision was heavily supported by the Faculty of Cultural studies and the Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies. A Junior-Professorship was introduced first, because it was unclear how popular a Korean studies programme would be.
In April 2010 You Jae Lee was appointed W1-Professor at the Department. As a historian, he pursues research in everyday- and global history in the fields of colonialism, Cold War, migration, and diaspora. For the imidiate wintersemester of 2010/11 Prof. Lee worked out a concept for a bachelors programme with focus on the modern Korea and an integrated year of studying abroad in Korea. He started out with 8 students in the newly established major. Until the Wintersemester of 2014/15 a consecutive masters programme, as well as a duo masters in Korean European Studies (MAKES), in cooperation with the Seoul national University, were added. Due to the newly offered programmes the number of new students increased rapidly. The number of students studying Korean Studies as their major increased from zero to 198 within the first five years and is currently (as of Wintersemester 2018/19) at about 306 Students, with a total of 399 Students.
With the addition of two more Junior Professors the Koreanstudies Department was able to expand the list of available topics in research and teachings. Professor Jong-Chol An supported the areas of Law and Society of Korea from 2014 until 2019 and is currently teaching as an visiting Professor. Professor Jerôme de Wit represents the Department of Korean Studies in the fields of korean culture and literature.
By adding lecturing positions and positions for teaching staff, as well as procuring third party fundings through lengthy effords, the non-professorial teaching staff was expanded. In light of the successful development of the department the University Directorate decided to add a new W3-Professor position to the department to which You Jae Lee was appointed in April 2018.
In the summersemester of 2018 the research personell increased to 14. This includes one full-time W3-Professor, two junior-professors, two full-time lecturers and 9 teaching-staff positions. This is extended by the secretarial staff.
Additionally, the Department of Korean Studies became an independant department for the first time in 2018. With this "disengagement" of the department all three East-Asian Studies departments were represented by their own department in the Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies for the first time. The Center for Korean Studies, which was founded at the same time, also conducts research projects like for example the Tübingen Global Korea Project funded by the Academy of Korean Studies, as part of the Core University Program for Korean Studies.
Besides the development of the Department of Korean Studies, the founding of the Tuebingen Center of Korean Studies at Korea University (TUCKU) in 2012 at the Korea University in Seoul established the infrastructure for a stable International study programme within the framework of the existing East-Asia strategy of the University of Tübingen.
The same year, the King Sejong Institute Tübingen was opened, which is also located at the Department of Korean Studies. The King Sejong Institute provides as a Korean equivalent to the German Goethe-Institut a wide range of Korean cultural experiences and language courses.