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Click on a heading to learn more about the history of the Department of Romance Studies.

Ebenezer Pettigrew, studied Modern Foreign Languages at UNC during the late 1700’s.

Modern foreign languages were among the first subjects taught at the University of North Carolina. As John and Ebenezer Pettigrew wrote to their father in 1795, “All of our class study french (sic) one half of the day, and lattin (sic) the other half” (Pettigrew Family Papers, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, UNC).

Thereafter, the record is spotty. We know that French and German had a place in the curriculum, and that the teacher of French or German was expected to teach Spanish. Nicolas Marcellus Hentz, who had the impressive title of Professor of Modern Languages (1826), was the first UNC professor whose duties were to teach French and Spanish regularly.

This early inclusion of modern languages in the university curriculum was bolstered by Harvard’s appointment of George Ticknor to the Smith Professorship of French and Spanish and belles lettres (1819) and Princeton’s (or the College of New Jersey as it was then known) appointment of Louis Hargouis (1830) as instructor of French and Spanish.

Dey Hall Namesake, William Morton Dey, was at UNC from 1909-1949

The pioneering achievements of early professors such as William Dey, Sturgis Leavitt, Howard Huse, N. B. Adams, Urban Tigner Holmes, Jr., and W. L. Wiley are recognized for the generations of scholars they trained and for their inspirational teaching. Several of  their disciples later became faculty members of the Department. Now gone, but never forgotten, are: Professors J. Cortés, G. Daniel, F. Duffey, A. Ebersole, A. Engstrom, E. Falk, J. Hardré, A. Maissen, W. McKnight, E. Morot-Sir, L. Sharpe, and S. Stoudemire. Our current tenured/tenure track faculty and fixed term faculty devote their time to the formation of the next generation of teachers and researchers. Their areas of research and samples of their publications are available for inspection.

The Department was housed in Murphey Hall in the 1920s. However, with the great increase in University enrollment after World War II–and with the greater importance given modern foreign language instruction as the Space Age began in the 1950s–it became clear that not only more space but advanced audiovisual equipment for that purpose should be provided by the State of North Carolina.

Under the direction of the Department’s second chairman, Prof. Sterling A. Stoudemire (1949-64), plans were drawn up and approved for a new building to be devoted exclusively to modern foreign language instruction. This four-story edifice (the first on campus to be built with central air conditioning) was named in memory of Prof. Dey. It was completed in 1962 and became the home of three departments (Romance Languages, Germanic Languages, and Linguistics) and the Curriculum in Comparative Literature. All shared language laboratory facilities.

The Department’s 3rd Chairman, Jacques Hardré

It soon became apparent that the rapid growth of the University and increasing demand for language training required considerably more space and equipment. A major expansion of the building was completed in the summer of 1969, during the tenure of the Department’s third chairman, Prof. Jacques Hardré (1964-1975).

During the early years of Prof. Hardré’s chairmanship, the Department lost many of its French and Spanish professors. This situation required the opening and filling of a large number of faculty positions in a short period of time, with an almost immediate expansion of the Department’s philological tradition to include literary criticism and theory. These major curricular changes were in place by the early 1970s.

With increased resources, it was possible to develop Ph.D. programs in Italian and Portuguese. Undergraduate enrollments in those language fields, along with French and Spanish, increased significantly, and continued to do so under the Department’s fourth and fifth chairmen, Profs. Frank M. Duffey (1975-80) and Edward D. Montgomery (1980-85). The sixth chair, Prof. Cesáreo Bandera (1985-1990), the first chair brought from the outside, was invited to come to Chapel Hill from the University of Buffalo to enhance offerings in theory. Prof. Stirling Haig, who had first joined the Department in 1967, continued that trend (1990-95). Prof. Frank A. Domínguez, a faculty member since 1973, served as the Department’s eighth chair from 1995-2003. The Department was administered by interim chairs from 2003-2006.  Prof. Larry King served as chair from 2006 to 2013, by Prof. Federico Luisetti from 2013 to 2017, by Prof. Sam Amago in 2017-18 and by Prof. Hassan Melehy in 2018-19. The department is currently led by Prof. Ellen Welch since 2019.

In the past few years, the Department has instituted new course offerings at the undergraduate and graduate levels that deal with business and the professions, culture, minority cultures and literatures, theory, and film and been a campus and professional leader in course redesign and the incorporation of technology into teaching.

Sturgis E. Leavitt, first editor of the monograph series.

At the present time, the Department maintains three internationally recognized publications. The oldest of these is the monograph series, Studies in the Romance Languages and Literatures, founded in 1940 with Professor Sturgis E. Leavitt as its first editor-in-chief and now headed by Prof. Frank Domínguez. Over the years it has published more than 250 titles.

The second-oldest departmental publication is the journal Romance Notes, founded in 1959 by Professor U. T. Holmes, Jr., and now led by Prof. Oswaldo Estrada. It has forty-six annual volumes published to date.

The third publication is the journal Hispanófila, founded by Prof. Alva V. Ebersole and brought by him to the Department in 1968. Prof. Juan Carlos Gonzalez-Espitia is the current editor and to date it has published 116 issues.

The Department was the first to establish study abroad programs for Chapel Hill students. The UNC at Montpellier program in France was first established at the University of Lyon in 1964. It then moved to the University of Orleans in 1974 and to the University of Montpellier in 1976. The UNC Year at Seville, Spain  program was established in 1973. In 2007 both programs were moved to the Study Abroad, which also administers programs in Italy and Brazil.

The Department maintains graduate exchange programs with the Universities of Montpellier (France), Navarra (Spain), Seville (Spain), and Barcelona (Spain).

The faculty continues to garner awards, honors, and grants; add to its distinguished record of publications; and manage an endowment that funds undergraduate prizes and awards, and graduate fellowships and research. In the past few years, the faculty has instituted new course offerings at the undergraduate and graduate levels that deal with business language and practice, culture, theory, and film. They have simplified exams at the graduate level to allow a higher degree of concentration toward the end of the Ph.D. and sponsored the nationally renowned Carolina Conference, run by graduate students.

The Department entered the 21st century with extensive faculty and student talent at its disposal. The faculty is committed to maintaining the Department’s scholarly publishing reputation while embracing new trends in critical and cultural theory and endeavoring to provide a thorough educational experience in the Romance languages and literature. They have revised course offerings at the undergraduate and graduate level, and enhanced teacher-training with a technological component. Enrollments are very strong in all languages, and recently elementary courses in Catalan and Basque have been added to the offerings.

In 2014, the Department took a major new step, becoming the Department of Romance Studies. The name change addresses current trends in the profession, where Romance Studies departments have attempted to break down traditional barriers in scholarship, placing more emphasis on interdisciplinary research and teaching. The change of the name captures the variety of approaches embraced by the faculty to the study and teaching of languages and literary and nonliterary texts and cultures of the Americas, Europe, and the Mediterranean.