Brief History of the Department of World Languages and Cultures

By Dr. Dudley M. Marchi, January 2002

Most people are not aware that foreign language instruction has been part of the NC State curriculum almost since the university's beginning. There is much in the news these days about the importance of foreign languages for U.S. citizens to function effectively in today's workplace and global economy. Yet even a century ago, an international curriculum was viewed by State's founding members as a highly compatible and essential component of the land grant tradition. The following account of the evolution of the Department underscores its distinctive program features and their importance to the university's land grant mission and international stature.

The Morrill Act of 1862 was a donation by the federal government of public lands to southern states for the establishment of colleges of agricultural and mechanical arts. The concept for North Carolina State University evolved from the Morrill Act, as initiated in 1885 by a Raleigh civic organization, The Watauga Club. The first mission statement of North Carolina Agricultural and Mechanical College in 1889 was as follows: “To establish an industrial school, a training place in the wealth producing arts and sciences, with the goal of producing practical young men who will become intelligent farmers, horticulturists, cattle and stock raisers, dairy men, carpenters, mechanics, draftsmen, architects, and manufacturers.” The College opened in 1887; its first building, Holladay Hall, named after State's first president, was constructed from North Carolina brick, made and donated by the State Penitentiary. In the first year, tuition, room, and board cost $8 per month, laundry 75 cents, books, paper, lamp fuel, coal, and medical care $1.25, and bedding and furniture $1, for an annual sum of $130 for 10 months of higher education. Students could earn seven cents an hour from on campus jobs.

From the beginning, the humanities played an integral role in the College's basic mission: courses in English and in History were required for all students in the belief that, in the words of State's first English professor, D.H. Hill: “the graduate should be able to express himself with accuracy and vigor” and should know something about “the important people and events that preceded present day civilization.” Foreign language learning made its first appearance at State in 1896. At that time the library contained 2,300 volumes and there were 247 students. An army officer and instructor of military tactics, Captain John C. Gresham of Virginia began to offer two hour electives in foreign languages: Latin for freshmen, German for sophomores, and French for juniors and seniors. After his unfortunate death in the Spanish American War in 1898, foreign language instruction disappeared temporarily from the curriculum.

The course catalogue of 1902-03 lists Mr. Abraham Rudy as instructor in Modern Languages, but only in 1907 do regular course offerings in Modern Languages make their appearance. A selection from the catalogue description, written by Rudy (the sole faculty member, a Russian émigré of Jewish descent), who taught German, French and Spanish, had a flying machine, sponsored the Aero Club and also spoke Esperanto is as follows: The aim of the department is to enable one to use a limited vocabulary for practical purposes in speaking and writing fluently simple sentences, and to read scientific works. A unilingual method is used, based on conversation, humorous anecdotes, interesting short stories, and scientific articles. The student is taught to think in the foreign language in a direct association of thoughts with foreign expressions. The meaning and use of foreign expressions are taught by a direct appeal to real objects, gestures, pictorial illustrations, cognates, context, comparisons, contrasts, and associations. Instruction is given three to four hours per week. Examinations consist of translations and of questions and answers. No English appears in an examination. Professor Rudy's methods were far ahead of their time. It took many years for such a culturally rich communicative approach to foreign language teaching to become as widespread as it is today in the American educational system. Today the Department still uses many of Rudy's innovative methods as well as video, television, interactive computer programs, and the Internet to provide optimal immersion in the foreign language learning process as the key to fluency.

Professor Rudy was replaced in 1916 by Professor Lawrence Hinkle who held a Ph.D. from Columbia University. In 1922, Hinkle, and instructor Percy Honeycutt Wilson, BA from Wake Forest (1920), comprised the Department of Modern Languages, which was now part of the School of Science and Business. The School's 1923 mission statement promoted foreign languages as “a necessary accompaniment of the technical curricula of all schools toward the best methods of commanding nations and world markets,” with the primary purpose of the department being to enable students “to become acquainted with French, German, and Spanish scientific literature.”

Professor Hinkle's justification of the importance of foreign languages for the students of North Carolina State College still rings true today: “Nations and people are closer today than ever before in the history of the world. Never before was there a time when there was a greater demand for mutual agreement amongst the peoples of the earth. Through the language of a people we get an insight into their life that can be had in no other way. Their modes of thinking, their aspirations, are revealed to us first hand. We come to know them personally, as it were, and with this knowledge there comes mutual understanding that makes for the solutions of many of our life problems. Hence, for these reasons, we hold that the study of languages is pre eminently practical for us.”

Course offerings included beginning and intermediate language courses as well as specialized courses such as Scientific German, Commercial French, and Industrial Spanish. One year's work in either French, German, or Spanish was required of all members of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps. Professor Hinkle moved away from the direct method of language instruction and based it on a more empirical model: learning the grammar and doing equivalent translations from one language to the other in order to develop the reading proficiency which would allow students more direct access to scholarly materials in a foreign language. Hinkle's pedagogical approach was suited to NC State's technical minded students and faculty, and the department flourished for over forty years under his direction. Hinkle's pedagogy, more limited yet more focused than Rudy's, has its merits too. Even today, the Department still offers courses in translation and business, and continues to certify the foreign language reading proficiency of graduate students.

The fact that NC State placed the direction of foreign language education in the hands of such a dynamic teacher, scholar, and administrator as Hinkle attests to its commitment to bringing NC State into the world arena. World War I was in great part responsible for many of the contacts that Americans had with Europe in the first decades of the century. The number of North Carolinian men who died in France and Germany, commemorated by the Bell Tower, is a tragic reminder of the consequences of poor international relations. It was also the beginning of a great expansion of economic and cultural ties between the U.S. and other countries. The number of foreign born scholars and students who subsequently came to the North Carolina has enriched our cultural heritage immensely. NC State began to develop the Department of Modern Languages as a key to its success in supporting the social and economic progress of the state.

In February 1923, the German Club sponsored a masked ball. A photo from that year's Agromeck shows that it was attended by over 150 students, faculty, and members of the Raleigh community. This is the first known instance of a language club on campus. Since then, the Department has maintained a long tradition of language/culture clubs in Latin, German, French, Spanish, and more recently Russian, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, and Hindi. Today the Department's language clubs continue to gather together not only students and faculty, but also members of the diverse international community in the Triangle area.

In 1937 the School of Science and Business became the Basic Division, its mission being “to provide two years of basic courses in the humanities, natural and exact sciences as the foundation of the schools of agriculture and forestry, textiles, and engineering.” The Department had been expanded to the Department of Modern Languages and Translation Services and was located in Peele Hall. The Translation Service was established by Professor Hinkle in 1925 and had two functions: graduate and advanced undergraduate students would complete translations on subject matters in their major area of concentration, and faculty would offer translation services to the rest of the University.

The Translation Service received international recognition in 1937. The course catalogue of 1945 divides the course offerings of the Department of Modern Languages into three categories: (1) Basic courses consisting of elementary French, French Prose, and Military French (the same curriculum was offered in German and Spanish); (2) Technical, Industrial, and Scientific language courses; and (3) General courses entitled “Masterpieces of Literature” (offered as open electives with no prerequisites, and in which “parallel readings,” i.e. bilingual editions, were used. There also seems to have been a seminar, “French, German, and Spanish Civilization”: “a study of the manners, customs, people, social classes, governments, politics, and education of these countries. The fall term focuses on developments in Europe and the Spring term is devoted to Latin America.” The Department continues to offer courses in culture and civilization and, indeed, successful language teaching is always done in a cultural context. For, beyond learning the grammar and vocabulary of a foreign language, we need to understand the cultural practices, social structures, and mentality of people from other countries to interact effectively with them.

By 1952, the Basic Division became the School of General Studies and the department had added Russian. During the academic year 1952 53 there were six faculty members and 17 class sections in which 210 students were taught. Most of the faculty were cited for having participated in professional meetings, both local and national. The department's mission was fourfold: (1) to offer undergraduate elective courses in foreign languages; (2) to certify graduate students in foreign languages; (3) to translate articles and edit scientific materials; (4) to teach English as a Second Language to international students. Over a period of several years in the early 1950s, the Department translated 93 articles, 66 of which were published in professional journals. 1959, the Raleigh Times praised North Carolina State College as “the only educational institution offering a translation service in North Carolina. The work enables scientists and others in the state to keep posted on the creative achievements of scholars and research workers throughout the world.”

In 1954, the salary of one associate professor was $3,900. Because of his excellent teaching and extension work that year, he was recommended for a 10% raise and a merit raise of $144. In 1957 with new head Dr. George Poland (Ph.D. UNC - Chapel Hill) the Department began to offer evening classes at Ft. Bragg and certified 175 graduate students in foreign languages. In 1958 a Living Books program was offered weekly on WUNC TV in which faculty from English and Modern Languages discussed masterpieces of Western literature, including such works as the Odyssey, Don Quixote, and Candide. This period marked the beginning of the department's efforts in distance-education. In the past five years it has offered courses in Spanish, French, and English as a Second Language, Hindi, and World Literature through the university's distance-education program via television, video, and the Internet. The Department was also active in extension cooperation, primarily lecturing in area high schools.

In his 1960 Annual Report, Fred Virgil Cahill, Jr. made a rousing defense of the School during his first year as Dean: “Both the good of this university and of the community require that we continue to expand the liberal arts. The fact that we are basically a technological school is both an advantage and an opportunity. We have here a chance to underscore the relevance of both the liberal arts and the technologies to a complete education. That anyone ever thought that they could be separated is one of the tragedies of modern civilization.”

By the end of 1963, the School of General Studies had become the School of Liberal Arts, the first language laboratory was installed, enrollments in Modern Languages were increasing dramatically, and the Department was located in Harrelson Hall. The first English Language Summer Institute for International Students was successfully offered in 1965, and the Department had added Italian to its curriculum. At this time, the School of Liberal Arts “sought to develop students' communication skills and to acquaint them with our literary heritage; to increase their understanding of their economic, political, social, and philosophical environment; and to think critically in a world of human affairs.” With this mission in mind, two semesters of a modern language at the intermediate level were required. The Department also offered scientific, literature, and civilization courses; French was the most popular language at this time.

In the 1970s, under Dean Robert Tilman, the School developed rapidly and was renamed the School of Humanities and Social Sciences (SHASS). In his 1973 Annual Report, the next Department head Alan Gonzalez made a strong statement about the importance of the Department's role at North Carolina State University: “No one can deny that understanding foreign peoples and cultures is more necessary now than ever before. North Carolina students may not have had as much international exposure, but they are interested and inquisitive about foreign cultures. The fundamental duty of this Department is to provide the basic knowledge that will prepare young men and women to understand values other than their own and thereby contribute to the international understanding on which world peace and the future of mankind depend.”

In 1972 the Department began offering a Bachelor of Arts degree as well as a Bachelor of Arts with a Teacher Education Option in either French or Spanish; and Greek and Latin became part of the curriculum. In 1978 the Department was renamed once again: to the current Foreign Languages and Literatures. In 1980, a foreign language festival sponsored by the Department attracted 2,000 visitors; the Japan House was established.

The 1985 course catalogue lists Dr. Joan Hinde Stewart (Ph.D. Yale) as acting head, and the Department's description is as follows: “Languages are keys to the world. The continuous expansion of international relations makes the knowledge of foreign languages a critical need for today's professional. There are careers in politics, diplomacy, commerce, banking, agriculture, science, and research in which a thorough knowledge of foreign languages is crucial for success. The demand for multilingual personnel extends to all fields of human enterprise and will continue to grow in the coming years.” In 1986, Dr. Stewart became the first female Department head and served until 1997.

Under Dr. Stewart's direction, the Department became a full partner in NC State's mission. After decades of steady growth the Department has reached significant proportions. During the academic year 2001-2002, 70 faculty members taught more 10,000 students in over four hundred course sections. There are over two hundred language minors and one hundred and sixty majors in French and Spanish. The language laboratory has evolved into the Foreign Language Technology Center, located in the former “Laundry Building” behind Poe Hall), an international, multi media resource for the university. D. H. Hill Library has hundreds of international films in the Media Center's film collection, available to all students and faculty, thanks to the department's on going acquisitions efforts. Faculty not only teach and fulfill university and community services, conduct outreach visits, receive research funding, and participate in professional organizations, but also are active scholars in the fields of literary criticism, literary history, historical, descriptive, and applied linguistics, and foreign language pedagogy.

In the last two decades the Department has added Japanese, Chinese, Hindi, Urdu, and more recently Farsi and Arabic to its curriculum as well as many new courses such as German Cinema, Medical Terminology, Francophone Culture and Civilization, Business for Communication, The French Visual Arts, and Spanish Language Culture, and Technology. In collaboration with the Department of English, it co sponsors a program in World Literature that offers such courses as Masterpieces of Ancient Literature, European Theater, and the Latin-American Novel. There are study abroad programs in France, Mexico, Peru, Spain, Japan, India, and Austria. With grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the North Carolina Humanities Council, the department has offered summer seminars for school teachers of French and Spanish on topics in literature, language, and culture. The Japanese program is the second largest in the southeastern U.S. A Master's degrees in teacher education in French, Spanish is pending approval by the UNC General Administration, an initiative toward the Department's goal of becoming a nationally recognized department in the years to come.

Recent accomplishments while Dr. Dudley M. Marchi (Ph.D. Columbia) has been Interim Department Head are: the expansion of the Department's English as a Second Language program which was awarded a $1.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to train ESL teachers throughout the State, winning NC State's Departmental Award for Teaching Excellence, the creation of more distance-education courses, new courses designed for students in the health professions, and in the colleges of Management, Design, and Engineering, an Arabic language curriculum, the growth of the teacher-education program, and instructional technology initiatives, such as on-line courses and increased use of multi-media materials in the classroom.

NC State students have an exceptional educational resource in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures: courses are taught by tenured and tenure track faculty members and by visiting faculty with Masters and Doctoral degrees. This practice contrasts with that of many research universities where the majority of lower-division courses are taught by graduate students. This excellent classroom experience, so vital to learning a second language, is one of the outstanding features of the Department. Majors continue to be offered in French and Spanish, while minors are available in Chinese Studies, Classical Studies, French, German, Italian Studies, Japanese, Linguistics, Russian Studies, Spanish, and World Literature. Whether they are preparing for a career in teaching, business, government, law, education, human services, the sciences, agriculture, textiles, veterinary medicine, the military, design, or one of many other professions, access to the international community that foreign language learning provides gives NC State students a competitive edge in the job market. The Department, as far back as the first years of Professor Hinkle, has always worked toward this goal.

The Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, continues to serve the interests of North Carolina by contributing to its advancement in international awareness and by providing direct contact with other languages and cultures in today's global society for the social and economic development of the citizens of North Carolina. There are over eight hundred international firms in North Carolina who have invested more than one billion dollars and created thousands of new jobs, and the state's international exports are at an all time high. Employers increasingly seek graduates who can interact confidently and appropriately with diverse populations. NC State students need to respond to this demand to compete successfully in the global economy.

NC State provides students the career related advantages of knowing a foreign language, and also the enjoyment of understanding other people and cultures. For beyond all of the practical reasons, so many of NC State graduates have gone beyond their foreign language requirement and enhanced their personal growth. They have added to their lives the fulfilling experience of communicating with other people, learning their cultures, living their customs, and expanding their own horizons. As a result they have become well rounded, informed individuals who better understand their country and its role in global affairs. Those who incorporate foreign languages into their university education are preparing themselves to be citizens of the world who will thrive in the truly international environment of the twenty first century. Today, the Department of World Languages and Cultures looks forward to another century of promoting such international competency for the students of NC State and for the citizens of North Carolina.