Why Study Russian

The History of Russian Instruction in
North America after WWII

It was only with the outbreak of World War II that Russian began to be taught fairly widely in American colleges. In 1939, only nineteen American universities offered Russian, less than half a dozen had formal Russian or Slavic departments, and only three offered doctoral programs. Closer contacts between the United States and the Soviet Union increased interest in Russian. In 1946, 190 academic institutions taught Russian. Rapid growth occurred again in 1957 after the launching of Sputnik shocked Americans into an awareness that Soviet science was not as backward as they had believed. 

Click here to hear sounds from some of the first satellites, including Sputnik

During the decade from 1958 to 1969 Russian enrollment in college courses doubled, doctoral programs were expanded to seventeen institutions, and by 1968 Russian was taught in all the states of the union. Enrollments stagnated somewhat in the 1970s but began to rise dramatically in the 1980s. In 1980 some 24, 000 students were studying Russian at the college level and by 1990 that number had increased to over 44, 000. Through the first half of the 1990s, however, enrollments fell off considerably, the popularity of the language having waned together with the perceived geo-political importance of the country. In the late 1990s, however, enrollments again began to grow, perhaps in recognition of the fact that Russian will indeed remain a major language of world politics, culture, and business. 

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