Abelmann, Nancy (1982-2014) | University of Illinois Archives
Nancy Abelmann was Professor of Anthropology, East Asian Languages and Cultures, and Women and Gender Studies at the University of Illinois from 1990 to 2007, and Harry E. Preble Professor of Anthropology, Asian American Studies, East Asian Languages and Cultures, and Women and Gender Studies from 2007 until her death in 2016. As a leading scholar in Korean and Asian American studies, her research focused on a wide array of themes such as class, education, migration, and social mobility. Professor Abelmann served as a mentor for the Korean Studies Workshop for Junior Faculty and Dissertation Writers of the Social Science Research Council. She served as president of the Society for Urban and Transnational Anthropology, as a member of the Korea Advisory Board of the Social Science Research Council, and as a member of the Korea Foundation North American Advisory Committee. Nancy Abelmann was on the editorial boards of Anthropological Quarterly, Asian Educational Media Service, Asian Journal of Women's Studies, Journal of Korean and Japanese Cinema, Korea Journal, Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State and Society, and Social Science History, as well as the book award committees of the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) Northeast Asian Council, the Society for East Asian Anthropology, the Society for Urban and Transnational Anthropology, and the Association for Asian American Studies.
Nancy Abelmann was born in 1959 in Boston to Dr. Walter H. Abelmann and Rena W. Abelmann. She earned an A.B. degree in East Asian Studies from Harvard University in 1982. Abelmann completed her graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley, with an M.A. in Social Cultural Anthropology (1984) and a Ph.D. in Social Cultural Anthropology (1990). In 1990, Abelmann became Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Nancy Abelmann was a founding member of the Asian American Studies Program (1997) at the UIUC that would pave the way for the establishment of Asian American Studies Programs across the USA. At UIUC, the program would expand into the Department of Asian American Studies in 2002. In 2002, Professor Abelmann co-founded the Ethnography of the University Initiative (EUI), a collaborative, multi-institutional initiative to direct and preserve student research projects about the university. In 2010 she established the Korean Family in Comparative Perspective (KFCP) laboratory for the globalization of Korean studies, funded by the Academy of Korean Studies and offering postdoctoral fellowships. Since 2010, Abelmann had also been co-principal investigator of The American University Meets the Pacific Century (AUPC) research project on the internationalization of the undergraduate student body at the University of Illinois. Nancy Abelmann also served as the director of the Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies from 2005 to 2008, and, since 2009, was the Associate Vice Chancellor for Research in the Humanities, Arts, and Related Fields.
Nancy Abelmann's first two books, Blue Dreams: Korean Americans and the Los Angeles Riots (co-authored with John Lie, 1995) and Echoes of the Past, Epics of Dissent (1996), were ground-breaking texts introducing transnational analysis and the study of social movements to the fields of Asian American and South Korean Studies. Her next major work, The Melodrama of Mobility: Women, Class, and Talk in Contemporary South Korea, received the 2004 Leeds Prize from the Society for Urban and Transnational Anthropology and the 2014 Im Seok-chae Award from the Korean Society for Cultural Anthropology. Abelmann would go on to publish five more books closely scrutinizing South Korea's "education fever," gender, and family relationships. Her research interests informed her teaching at the University of Illinois where she offered courses on topics related to East Asian cultures, South Korean society, and Korean diaspora.
Nancy Abelmann died on January 6, 2016 at the age of 56.
Obituary for Professor Abelmann, The News-Gazette