The Department of French was one of the original Departments of Instruction created for the academic year 1893-1894. Its original mission was to prepare students to understand and translate major works of French literature, rather than to teach students to converse in French. An Italian course, and later a Spanish course, was offered to students who had completed two years of French. In 1926, a separate Department of Italian was created. In 1939, the Department of French and the Department of Italian combined to form the Department of French and Other Romance Languages, which also offered courses in Spanish and Portuguese.
The Department of French was one of the original departments created in 1893. Prior to the academic year of 1893-1894, students followed courses of study (e.g., a Classical Course or an Engineering Course). However, the 1893-1894 Catalogue of Tufts College lists "Departments of Instruction" from which students may choose a major subject.
In French courses (as in German courses), emphasis was placed on translation "by means of copious reading and careful grammatical drill." Students read classics of French literature and learned historical material only to the extent that it shed light on the context within which the literature was written. They were expected to understand spoken French although not necessarily to speak it themselves (the 1893-1894 catalogue states "Though no attempt is made to teach the student to speak the language, he is trained from the outset to hear and to understand it when spoken, chiefly for the sake of the reflex influence of such practice upon pronunciation").
In 1893-1894, an Italian language course was offered to students who had completed two years of French. It too emphasized grammar and literature. In subsequent years, this course was given every other year, alternating with a Spanish language course.
In 1926, Italian-language courses were moved from the Department of French to the newly created Department of Italian. In 1939, the Department of French and the Department of Italian were combined to form the Department of French and Other Romance Languages, which also offered courses in Spanish and Portuguese.