About the Department of Spanish and Portuguese

Department History

Tulane University is located in New Orleans, a city with deep historic and cultural ties to Spain and Latin America. Although founded by the French in 1718, New Orleans emerged as a major center of commerce and culture during the period of Spanish administration between 1764 and 1803. Throughout the nineteenth century, New Orleans maintained direct and intense connections with Havana, the capital of Spain’s most important colony following the independence of mainland Spanish America. The first Spanish language newspaper in the United States was published in New Orleans in 1808. In the early 1850s, as the University of Louisiana (later renamed Tulane) expanded from a small medical college into multidisciplinary university, it recruited J.A. de Tornos, originally from Puerto Rico, as the first Professor of Spanish Language and Literature. When the Newcomb College for Women was founded in 1887, one of the original seven faculty members was a professor of Spanish, then the only foreign language taught at the college. Newcomb College developed into a major center for the study of the Spanish language, literature, and culture under the direction of Don Felipe Fernandez, a graduate of the Universidad de Valladolid, who taught here between 1905 and 1930.

By the early 1920s, both the women's and the men's colleges (Newcomb and Arts & Sciences, respectively) had established departments of Spanish as distinct from the other romance languages. In 1928 the first M.A. in Spanish was awarded at Tulane University. The Ph.D. program was established in 1947, the same year that the Portuguese language was first offered. In 1950, Tulane University awarded its first Ph.D. in Spanish. From the beginning of the Ph.D. program, faculty and graduate students have pursued research interests in both Peninsularist and Latin Americanist fields. The development of graduate study in Spanish and Portuguese coincided with the rise of Latin American Studies at Tulane which began awarding advanced degrees in the late 1940s. The department continues to maintain close relations with the internationally renowned Stone Center for Latin American Studies, which brings together scholars of many fields and operates vibrant interdisciplinary undergraduate and graduate programs.

Since Hurricane Katrina, there has been a significant influx of Latin Americans, most notably from Brazil and Mexico, who have further enhanced the city's multicultural character. Tulane's campus is host to hundreds of students from Latin America, Spain, and Portugal who are pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees in liberal arts and sciences and professional schools. The Junior Year Abroad program in Spain and other semester or summer abroad programs in Latin America offer rich opportunities for students to greatly improve their language skills while experiencing the cultures of these areas. The Howard-Tilton Library of Tulane houses one of the largest collections of Latin American source materials in the United States. In short, Tulane University is unusually well situated and equipped to foster and support the study of Spanish and Portuguese.

The Department of Spanish and Portuguese continues to build upon a long tradition of academic excellence. The 2007 Faculty Scholarly Productivity Index, which was published by the Chronicle of Higher Education, ranked our department #2 in the field of Spanish and Portuguese.


The mission of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese mirrors the university's mission to create, communicate, and conserve knowledge, in order to encourage students to think, to learn, to act, and to lead with integrity and wisdom. The mission of our department is also related to the history and culture of New Orleans, a city with Spanish colonial heritage and presently home to several thousand Latin American immigrants. Our Ph.D. program in Spanish and Portuguese prepares students for academic positions as scholars and teachers of the highest quality. Undergraduates in our department are prepared for careers in a diverse range of professions that depend on a solid background in liberal arts and the added advantage of bi- or tri-lingualism. All students in our classes are introduced to a broad variety of literary texts and other cultural manifestations from Spain, Latin America, and Brazil. They further receive training in the methods of literary and cultural studies, including instruction in critical thinking, along with the development and refinement of research and writing skills. The department also provides instruction in the Spanish and Portuguese languages, which are spoken by millions of people in Europe, the Americas, and Africa. With these competencies and knowledge, students are equipped to participate constructively in a multilingual society and to function effectively in diverse international environments.