The Department of English celebrates its 50th anniversary

The Department of English at the University of Klagenfurt has every reason to celebrate: Founded in 1973, the Department of English and American Studies turned 50 this year. Members of the department welcomed friends, partners, companions, alumni and students to a special event to celebrate the 50th anniversary.

The Department of English has enjoyed steady growth and – by international standards – it has become an institution with an impressive research record and excellent networks over the past few decades. On 14 June 2023, a special celebration was held at the University of Klagenfurt to mark the anniversary and to reflect on the past, present and future of the department. Numerous guests seized the opportunity to extend felicitations. The festive programme was moderated by Blake Shedd, Matthias Klestil and Alexander Onysko.

Ulrike Krieg-Holz, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Humanities & Education, offered the department her congratulations: “The 50th anniversary is a special occasion and a reason to rejoice. This is especially true for a department that has performed so admirably. This department is one of the most research-intensive in our faculty, with a number of internationally acclaimed publications that lies well above the average and, what is more, it is currently involved in no fewer than five FWF projects.”

“Since it was founded in 1973, the department has promoted 1200 students to graduation, distinguishing itself as a student-centred and innovative institution from the outset,” said Alexander Onysko, head of the Department of English, in his opening speech. Even in its earliest years, the department stood out as a progressive English studies institution within the Austrian university landscape, and since the 1980s, English has been the language of instruction across the entire range of courses. Particular mention was made of the fact that the department was the first in Austria to successfully launch Bachelor’s and Master’s programmes following the introduction of the Bologna system in 2005.

The staff members, past and present, who gave an insight into the very beginnings of the department included Gertraud Havranek, Maureen Devine, Anthony Hall, Rachel Köberl, Allan James, Jörg Helbig, Werner Delanoy and Günther Sigott, to name but a few. Graduate Manuela Hofer-MacIntrye congratulated the Department of English via video message from Wyoming.

“Founding professor and linguist William Nemser moved to Klagenfurt from the USA in 1973 specifically to set up the department,” Onysko recounted. This was swiftly followed by the establishment of the Chair of English Literature, which was filled by Franz Kuna in 1976. The further expansion of the department then proceeded apace and a second generation of professors soon followed in the shape of Allan James (Linguistics) and Jörg Helbig (Literary Studies). Student numbers have steadily climbed and today the department has 600 students. In the field of research, the department acquired its first FWF projects as far back as the 1990s and built up a strong international network, especially with Great Britain, America and Australia. Another generational change soon followed, and Alexander Onysko was appointed as Professor of Linguistics in 2016. Most recently, Julia Hoydis joined the department as Professor of Literary Studies (2023). In the 1990s, the department made a name for itself within the university thanks to the theatre group INEPT, which was initiated and run by staff members of the department at the time.

Looking ahead to the future of the department, the Bachelor’s programme will officially be offered as an English-language programme starting in the coming winter semester. “We hope this will further increase the appeal of the degree programme and generate interest among international students.” This formal move will also involve changing the name of the Bachelor’s programme to Worlds of English. “The Bachelor’s programme Worlds of English in Klagenfurt conveys a multifaceted approach to the diverse varieties and contexts of English around the world with the help of modern linguistic, cultural and literary approaches, and this is perfectly embodied in the new name” as Onysko stated. The next step will be the introduction of a new extension programme called “Encounters in English” in the autumn of this anniversary year.

As for the future, the department is committed to continuing its research successes, which are notable for their high international impact. Over the past few decades, it has become an institution with an impressive research record and excellent networks. In addition to securing a number of FWF-funded third-party projects, scholars have published 180 papers and given more than 224 scientific lectures over the past six years. In the area of teaching, the department will continue to expand its innovative teaching and student-centred supervision in both the English degree programmes and the teacher training programmes.

The concluding buffet and summer party accompanied by music provided time for conversation and an exchange of ideas well into the evening.