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Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages


Faculty history


Origins and early days

Towards the end of the 19th century, the University of Cambridge recognsied the need to provide instruction in modern languages, as opposed to the more traditional ancient languages of Latin and Greek. In February 1879 a Special Board for Medieval and Modern Languages was established. Before the structure of a Tripos was formalised, a Pass Examination (called the Special Examination in Modern Languages) was offered from 1883. In 1884, the Medieval and Modern Languages Tripos was established, comprising papers on French and German translation, as well as choices from sections covering old Saxon, Gothic and Icelandic langauges.

In June 1884 two University Lecturers were appointed (E. G. W. Braunholtz, who taught French, and Karl Breul, who taught German). They began teaching in Michaelmas 1884, at the start of the Medieval and Modern Languages Tripos. Lectures were initially open to members of the University and students from Girton and Newnham College. Braunholtz and Breul were assisted by Dr Skeat, Professor of Anglo-Saxon, who provided lectures on Anglo-Saxon; Israel Gollancz, who from 1896 lectured on English; and a number of 'recognised teachers' (including several graduates).

The first Tripos examination was held in 1886, in which three men and three women obtained honours.

The Tripos was significantly restructured after five years of operation, creating a more appealing course, and offered from October 1891. The scheme proved popular, attracting increasing numbers of students for the next several decades.