The Leathes report at 100: reassessing a vision for languages
The British Academy, Friday 25 May 2018
The publication in 1918 of ‘Modern studies, being the report of the Committee on the Position of Modern Languages in the Educational System of Great Britain’ marked an important moment in the establishment of Modern Languages as a distinctive discipline in UK Higher Education. Written in the context of the final years of the end of World War I, the report balanced concern about the ‘neglect of Modern Studies’ and advocacy for an ‘ideal of humane learning’ with consideration of the practical measures required to build the specialist study of languages in the aftermath of conflict.
Known subsequently as the ‘Leathes Report’ after its author Sir Stanley Leathes, the document set out a foundational vision for Modern Languages that sought to avoid a number of the traps into which the field would subsequently fall: most notably perhaps, it proposed a unified understanding of the field that avoided the methodological nationalism and chronic extroversion that have often transformed diversity into fragmentation; it sought to articulate a clear disciplinary identity that would allow Modern Languages to operate as an equal alongside a range of other academic fields; and it foregrounded the need for outsider perspectives that would allow Modern Linguists to maintain a sympathetic but never sycophantic relationship to their object of study, avoiding attempts to replicate other methodologically nationalist approaches such as Germanistik or Lettres Modernes.
A century after the publication of Leathes’s report, this workshop seeks to assess the document’s impact, to explore the opportunities inherent in the vision of Modern Languages it outlined, to identify the convergences and divergences between issues raised in 1918 and those we face now, and to reflect on the importance of the questions it raises about the purpose, place and mechanisms of education for Modern Languages now.