A Brief History
By Professor Saad Gamal

Any history of the Department of English at Cairo University, however brief, is apt to recognize a number of phases each with its distinctive features. This one recognizes three phases.

Phase I. The Beginnings (1925-1950)

The Department of English at Cairo University was established around 1925 together with other departments comprising the Faculty of Arts, itself one of several faculties making the new Egyptian State University (later renamed Fouad I University).

Students admitted to the English Department came with nine years of English language learning throughout their pre-university education. Their mastery of the language qualified them to understand and appreciate the great classics of English literature in the various genres.

The Faculty were scholars and men-of-letters from England. Robert Graves and Bonamy Dobree were two prominent figures in the late twenties and the thirties. During the war years the Department hosted a number of young poets and novelists: Robin Fedden, Terence Tiller, P. H. Newby and Bernard Spencer, as well as a handful of less known figures who spent the war years teaching English at this department.

The syllabus also included Latin, French as a second foreign language and of course Arabic literature.

The Department “published” an in-house magazine “The English Section Faculty of Arts Magazine (ESFAM)” where students gave expression to their ideas, dreams and fantasies in verse or prose.

The mid-thirties saw the establishing of the Graduates Club in downtown Cairo where graduates of the Department kept contact with their Alma Mater and both graduates and senior students participated in drama productions, discussions of current events and other social activities.

Phase II. Egyptianization (1950-1970)

The wind of politics brought with it some far-reaching changes to the Egyptian scene. Fouad I University was renamed Cairo University and the very core of the educational system was challenged and reshaped. The Department of English saw the departure of its English Faculty, leaving two Egyptians (Oxonians) and a Dutchman to face a new academic year only two months away. A hectic recruitment campaign calling on holders of MA or Graduate Diploma in English Studies (Exeter University) brought the total number of faculty to nine. Some emergency cuts in the syllabi had to be made and 1954-55 left both students and faculty gasping.

Plans to ensure a well qualified faculty were immediately set in motion. Scholarships and grants helped send a limited number of Egyptians to Ireland and to the United States to study for PhD degrees in literature and in linguistics. Visiting professors from the U.S. also helped, especially in the area of linguistics, then a relatively new discipline.

The sixties witnessed the return of a good number of PhDs in both areas (literature and linguistics), and the student-teacher ratio was restored to a reasonably acceptable level, considering the many adverse circumstances at the time. Those years also saw significant changes in the curriculum: expansion in linguistics courses, interest in world literature in English, and cross-cultural studies.

Phase III. Consolidation and Diversification (1970 – the Present)

Over the last three decades the Department has seen considerable development in various areas. The following features characterize the third phase.

  • Reinforcing language skills in response to lower competence level of secondary school certificate holders as a result of reducing foreign language teaching to the prep and secondary stages–no foreign languages in the primary stage.
  • Upgrading requirements for academic degrees (MA, Ph.D in both specializations literature and linguistics) and orienting syllabi in the Translation and applied linguistics to meet market needs.
  • Upgrading junior faculty members through securing opportunities to study in British/American/Canadian universities either through the joint supervision channels or scholarships and grants.
  • Keeping in contact with current trends through conferences held regularly (every other year) with participation from national universities as well as universities from “abroad” (in the widest sense).
  • Encouraging research and publication. The Department has its journal “English Language Studies”, but faculty members are urged to publish through other recognized channels.
  • Reinforcing the need to integrate linguistic and literary studies through shared grounds (stylistics, discourse analysis, cross-cultural studies).
  • Tightening up admission requirements in all levels and requiring restoring student-teacher ratio especially with the increasing loss of faculty through secondment to other universities in the region or to private universities in Egypt.