Mongolian Studies at Berkeley

A History of Mongolian Studies

As an important part of UC Berkeley’s long engagement with East Asia, the university has a long tradition connecting with Mongolia and Mongolian Studies reaching back to the early part of the 20th century.

Mongolian Studies began at the university when Ferdinand Lessing, a German scholar of Central Asia, was named the university's fourth Agassiz Professor of Oriental Languages and Literature in 1935. He established the country’s first course in the Mongolian language, as well as courses on Mongolia’s Lamaistic tradition. In 1960, he published the first scholarly Mongolian-English dictionary, which, in updated and revised editions, is still in use today.

Mongolian Studies continued to advance at UC Berkeley under the direction of Prof. James Bosson who taught at the university from 1964 through 1996 and who published critical works on Mongolian linguistics including his 1964 textbook Modern Mongolian, which is still the standard text for English-language learners. In 2014, Prof. Bosson was awarded the Polar Star Medal of Mongolia by the Mongolian government for his outstanding service to Mongolian Studies. 

The Mongolia Initiative at the Institute of East Asian Studies was formally established in 2014 following a generous gift from the government of Mongolia to the university. This gift has supported new programs, including support for language instruction, visiting scholars, library acquisitions, and events and conferences.