Origins of Spanish Instruction at Columbia University
From its beginnings, the teaching of Spanish in higher education institutions in the United States has been marked by cultural, political, and economic factors. Several documents show that Romance languages were taught at Columbia University as early as 1784 - more than a century before the establishment of the Hispanic Institute – although it is not until 1830 that the teaching of Spanish acquired its formal character. That year Mariano Velásquez de la Cadena was appointed professor of Spanish Language and Literature at Columbia, a position he held for three decades until his death in 1860.
Velásquez de la Cadena was born in Mexico in 1778 and was educated in the Royal Seminary of Nobles in Madrid where he graduated in Philosophy and Law in 1799. In Spain he held important official posts, such as notary of the Council of the Indies and Secretary to King Charles IV, whom he represented at Napoleon’s coronation. Unwilling to remain in Spain after the Napoleonic invasion or to return to Mexico in the midst of the Wars of Independence, Velásquez de la Cadena opted to come to the United States and settle in New York, where he devoted himself to teaching Spanish to English speakers and English to Spanish speakers.