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One Hundred Years of Foreign Languages and Literatures 
at North Carolina State University: 1896-1996

Dudley M. Marchi

Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures

Most people are not aware that foreign language instruction has been part of the NC State curriculum almost since the university's beginning. This centennial year has provided the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures the opportunity to reflect on traditions and changes. There is much in the news these days about the importance of foreign languages if U.S. citizens are to function effectively in today's workplace and global economy. Yet even a century ago, an international curriculum was viewed by NC 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 the University'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 the College'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 100 years ago, 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 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 in the catalogue. 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, 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.

But Mr. Rudy had a difficult time at NC State. According to History of North Carolina State College by David Lockmiller: "Rudy's direct methods of instruction, at first successful, were not suited to the College and because of this and his growing peculiarities he left the institution early in 1915" (80). Because of his unpopularity, some students tied the flying machine he built to the top of the old smokestack as a practical joke. Although an innovative language instructor and technological visionary who sponsored the Aero Club, one of the first organizations of its kind in the state and in the nation, Rudy gave the department a controversial beginning.

It would appear that the students and administrators of NC State had a difficult time with Professor Rudy's forward thinking. This very conflict of outlooks underscores how difficult it can be for people to understand those who are too unlike themselves - and how international competency can overcome this problem. Michel de Montaigne, sixteenth-century French essayist, once said "all people consider barbaric that which is different from their own way of thinking." The Greek origin of the word "barbaros" simply means stranger - someone who may look, speak, dress, eat, and pray differently than we do. Yet if there were fewer "strangers" in our lives, would there not be more mutual understanding and cooperation in the world today? For foreign-language education is more than learning grammar and vocabulary lists: it is a philosophical perspective by which one can deal more effectively and responsibly with a complex world.

From its origins, North Carolina has been an international state. Many place names such as New Bern (German Swiss) or Beaufort (French) attest to this - even Fayetteville was named after the famous French general, The Marquis de Lafayette, a reminder of America's alliance with France during the American Revolution and North Carolina's role in it as one of the original thirteen colonies. In a state first settled by Native-Americans, discovered by the French, inhabited subsequently by English, Germans, African-Americans, and more recently by Hispanics, Asians, and other people from almost every country in the world, multicultural cooperation is more vital to the citizens of this state than ever. The Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures continues to be committed to serving North Carolina's culturally diverse population.

Rudy was replaced in the following year by Professor Lawrence Earle Hinkle who held a 1918 MA 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 promotes 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 educational approach was suited to NC State's technical-minded students and faculty, and the department flourished for over twenty-five 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, highly popular with students, in translation and business, and still certifies graduate students throughout the university for their foreign-language requirement.

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 France. The number of foreign-born scholars and students who subsequently came to the U.S. 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.

Hiring Rudy and Hinkle was the start of NC State's move toward internationalism. Yet given that Hinkle was of German descent and living in the U.S. just after the war, he must have struggled a great deal with the problem of bi-cultural identity. Let us remember that Rudy had similar problems fitting in with what was a predominantly provincial White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant populace during his stay. The urgency of Hinkle's mission statement, "never was there a greater demand for mutual agreement amongst the people of the earth," attests to how difficult the times were. It is an idea that should be heeded more than ever as the century nears its end and the Earth remains a violent planet. Hinkle was, yes, just a foreign-language educator, but the scope of his purpose was of such magnitude that it strove to reach beyond the ivory tower and directly benefit the citizens of North Carolina in a very significant way, though perhaps not obvious at first. He represents the very heart and soul of NC State's mission of preparing students and citizens to succeed in a multicultural environment and of being a model university of international stature in the twenty-first century.

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 German, French, Spanish, Latin, and more recently Italian, Chinese, Japanese, and Hindi. A photo in the 1923 Agromeck shows that over two hundred people attended, other than students, and it would appear that the club was providing a significant outreach service to the community. 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.

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Continue to part II.