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History of Modern Languages at Ohio University

A Bicentennial History, 1804-2004

Preface & Acknowledgements

By Barry G. Thomas
Professor of German Emeritus August 2003

"History is bunk!" So, allegedly, proclaimed Henry Ford. Of course, one can only legitimately make that judgement if one is informed about the past. The Department of Modern Languages at Ohio University has enjoyed a long and interesting history, although many of the facts, figures and stories have lain buried in the archives and much invaluable firsthand knowledge has been lost as succeeding older generations of faculty leave the scene. This bicentennial project arose from the realization that many members of the Department of Modern Languages have little knowledge of the history and traditions of the department. Not surprising, since there has been almost a 100 percent turnover in the last 10 to 15 years. My first approach to connecting this "missing link" was simply to create a list of all the chairs of the department, which might provide some sense of the continuity of language teaching at Ohio University. However, the question soon arose as to when the separate departments of Romance Languages and German/Russian actually became one Department of Modern Languages. In researching both these topics, it became clear that modern languages had played a role in the growth of Ohio University from soon after the initiation of classes in the early 19th century, and so, rather than just compiling a list of chairs, it seemed appropriate to include the whole history of the five languages now housed in the Department of Modern Languages at Ohio University. Creating an accurate list of chairs proved to be a difficult undertaking, since chairs are not officially designated in the catalogues until 1947. Constructing the general outlines of the departmental history was a somewhat easier task, since the archives department of Alden Library possesses a wealth of valuable sources. The devil, of course, is in the details, and, as indicated in the endnotes, a couple of vexing problems could not be fully elucidated.

This project would not have been possible without the invaluable assistance of the staff in the Archives Department of Alden Library (George W. Bain, Head of the Mahn Center for Archives & Special Collections; Sheppard Black, Special Collections Librarian; Judy Connick, Special Collections Librarian; Doug McCabe, Curator of Manuscripts; Karen Jones, Administrative Associate. In particular I must mention Bill Kimock, University Archivist, Janet Carleton, Digital Projects Librarian, and Doug McCabe, Curator of Manuscripts, who were especially helpful in the later stages of my research and document completion. Like their colleagues, their patience and courteousness was surpassed only by their professional competence in locating even the most obscure sources.

I am indebted to my colleague at the University of Cincinnati, Dr. Don Heinrich Tolzmann, Curator of the German-Americana Collection, who generously provided me with information from his research on attitudes toward German culture during the First World War and on the later teaching and writing career of Professor Emil Doernenburg.

In the Department of Modern Languages I owe thanks to several colleagues: to Lois Vines for her careful reading of the document and her many good suggestions; to Phil Richardson, who filled in many of the missing pieces from the 1960s; to the chairman, Fred Toner, who even in tight budget times assured that the history would be published; to Leslie Johnson, Administrative Assistant, who contributed significantly to developing the list of faculty; and Jan Harmon, Departmental Administrator, for  her interest and creative contributions. To Wendy Kaaz, Media Resources Coordinator, goes the credit and my thanks for the attractive design and layout of the document, as well as for her unlimited patience in dealing with the almost weekly revisions I sent in.

This publication lays no claim to completeness. As with the department itself, the history is a work in progress which, one hopes, will continue to provide a better understanding of the past while building a bridge to the future.