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War and Peace

From The Department of Modern Languages: A Bicentennial History 1804-2004

Unlike during the First World War, this time the German program survives World War II intact; apparently the responsible faculty, administrators and politicians decide it is better to know the language of your adversary than to remain ignorant of it. 9 World War II also seems to have little significant effect on the other language programs. Professor Rice is on a military leave of absence from 1943- 1945. The curriculum is enhanced in 1940-41 by the establishment of a master’s degree in Romance Languages; by Beginning Portuguese; and in 1944- 45 by the addition of two German courses designed for the times: "Readings in Military German" and "German for Overseas Service."

The post-war period marks the beginning of the "Baker Years," with a growing emphasis on internationalism. In 1946-47 Elementary Chinese is offered for the first time, though not in the language department. The instructor is Associate Professor of History Wilfred James Smith, and it seems to have been taught only once. Perhaps in recognition of the changing balance of power, and well in advance of "Sputnik," Thekla Hammer of the German Department begins offering Russian in 1947-48. 10

Despite this encouraging sign, all is not well with modern languages as the 1950s get under way. In a series of memos between President Baker and Dean Gamertsfelder, both men express their concern about the future of the language program if enrollments don't rise and methodologies don't change.

Fortunately the two administrators take a very pro-active and supportive approach to "modernizing" the modern language curriculum. Speakers are brought in and faculty are encouraged to experiment with new teaching approaches, such as the "Army Method." 11

From the late thirties into the fifties there is very little change in programs and permanent faculty. In the 1958-1960 catalogue, however, we see the first signs of significant developments that will soon be occurring.

9 Other events, however, suggest that Athens and the university had not suddenly become a hotbed of tolerance for outsiders and other suspect types. Some examples from the papers of President Herman James (1935-1943) illustrate the prevailing, and in view of the times, perhaps understandable attitudes:

  1. the acceptance of a German exchange student is deemed inadvisable because of anti-Nazi sentiment (1938).
  2. despite strong academic recommendations, James is unable to consider the appointment of Dr. Felix Wassermann, a university educated German-Jew refugee. James points out that even should Wassermann obtain U.S. citizenship, "he still has the hurdle of his foreign and racial background to overcome," and he continues: "The great mass of freshwater, religious and state-supported institutions will have trouble making a place for such a man, however competent and deserving he may be" (November 24, 1941).
  3. 3) in response to a request from the National Student Relocation Council concerning the placement of some American-Japanese nursing students (September 16, 1942) James writes: "I am very sorry to have to report that after much consultation, discussion, and deliberation, I am unable to state that the attitude of the community is such that these students may reside here without being molested". (Sept. 22, 1942) To a follow-up request from the National Nursing Council for War Service (Oct. 16, 1942), James replies: "I regret greatly to say that, after our original proposal to take Japanese students was publicized, local pressure caused its withdrawal" (Oct. 19, 1942).

In a letter to the attorney for the relocation project (Sept. 23, 1943), James' successor, W. Gamertsfelder, identifies the opposition more specifically as the "citizens of Athens and the Mayor." Gamertsfelder takes a more generous approach in a message to Earl Shively, Chairman of the Ohio University Board of Trustees. The Trustees are requested by the Campus Religious Council to "lift the ban on admission of Americans of Japanese ancestry (Nisei) to Ohio University." Gamertsfelder confirms that "the opposition to the admission of Nisei comes from the townspeople and not from the faculty or students," but despite having a son "fighting his way toward Tokyo," Gamertsfelder sees no reason why he should "be opposed to the admission of Americans of Japanese ancestry." After all, he points out, "General Eisenhower is no Nazi simply because his ancestors came from Germany" (November 20, 1944: Box 2, File 39).

The stereotyping evident in some of the above statements, which of course are not unique to their times, lend emphasis to the critical role that a Department of Modern Languages can play in contributing to intercultural understanding.

10 The Gamertsfelder papers contain a new course proposal of Oct. 10, 1944, for Slavic 1-2, submitted by G. Starcher (not a member of the MLD). The instructor is listed as David I. K. Hecht, an instructor in History. The course is not listed with ML offerings, but a Gamertsfelder memo of May 15, 1945, suggests that it was taught. Hecht was not reappointed for 1945-46 (Gamertsfelder, Box 2, File 110; Box 3, File 133). On February 21, 1946 Gamertsfelder, now dean of Arts and Sciences, suggests to the newly appointed President Baker that "we could bring in a teacher who could assist with German and start the work in Russian."

11 For example, students are complaining "that the language instruction is old-fashioned, very little emphasis on conversation, and practically no use of any modern methods"; (Baker, Jan 17, 1949) "If we don't do something to stir up interest in foreign languages, I am afraid they will go the road of classical languages"; (Baker, Feb 25, 1950) "I suggested to [Dr. Renkenberger] ... that we consider introducing language courses which accent the spoken language" (Gamertsfelder, Feb. 28, 1950). "Another student pointed out that foreign language as taught did not make the student proficient in writing and speaking the language" (Baker, March 17, 1950). President Baker is clearly a proponent of the spoken language: "I was delighted to know that next year emphasis will be placed on the oral use of language. This may go a long way in impressing students of the 'use' value of a foreign language" (Baker, May 17, 1950). One bright light in the methodological wilder=ness seems to have been Professor of Spanish James Rice. Already on October 16, 1948 George Starcher, dean of University College, reports enthusiastically to Gamertsfelder on his invited visit to Rice's Spanish 1 class to observe "a new technique for teaching foreign language." Among Starcher's observations: every member of the class was interested and actively participating; students were required to make some contribution; they asked questions; and, Starcher notes somewhat pointedly, teachers in other foreign languages would find this work very interesting. The correspondence is located in Gamertsfelder Box 3, Files 131 & 132.