Undergraduate courses in German were offered at Queen's as early as 1870 and were taught on a regular basis after 1888 by John Macgillivray, who founded the Department of German in 1902.In 1950, the department became the first academic unit at the university, apart from the School of Nursing, to be led by a woman, when Hilda Laird, a former dean of women and long-time German professor, was appointed department head.
The department offered a comprehensive range of undergraduate courses in German language and literature and, in conjunction with the Departments of art, history, philosophy, and political studies, also offered an interdisciplinary degree program in German Studies. It had engaged in research in a variety of fields and had a lively graduate program, offering both MA and PhD degrees that prospered for 40 years.
The Department was also home to the Russian program until 2001.
Courses in Japanese have been offered since 1988 and Chinese since 1995. The Program in Linguistics joined the Department of German in since 2009.
Spanish and Italian have been taught at Queen's since 1896 in the old Department of Romance Languages. The Department of Spanish and Italian was formed in 1920 under the guidance of Professor J.H. Brovedani, who remained head of the department until 1949. The program expanded in the late 1960s, when Ontario universities increased their intake of students. Aside from providing elective courses for undergraduate and graduate students from other disciplines, the Department offered Minor, Medial and Major concentrations in Spanish. In the mid-1970s a Medial concentration in Italian was added as well as an interdisciplinary special field concentration entitled Spanish and Latin American Studies. From 1968 to 2009, the Department had an M.A. program in Spanish, which produced high-quality graduates.
The Department of German and the Department of Spanish and Italian had certain similarities: each already consisted of more than one discipline, each offered concentrations and courses in languages other than English, and each had a similar number of faculty. These were the reasons why in 2009 the two departments began discussions regarding the potential of joining forces to create a new unit. Other factors, both external and internal, were also taken into a consideration. Quality and sustainability of programs were at the forefront of the concerns. The new department would also facilitate interdisciplinary programs, such as the Minor in World Language Studies, introduced in 2010.
The creation of the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures was approved on December 17, 2010 at meeting of the Committee of Departments in the Faculty of Arts and Science, at the Faculty Board meeting on January 14, 2011, and finally, on March 24, 2011, the Senate approved the proposal for the new department with an implementation date of July 1, 2011.
Administrative structures have been fully integrated, but each of the six disciplines in the new department (Chinese, German, Italian, Japanese, Linguistics, and Spanish) will maintain its disciplinary integrity, and existing Plans will continue. In 2012, the Department began offering courses in indigenous languages and cultures: Inuktitut and Mohawk. In 2013/14, students have the opportunity to take Portuguese language and culture courses.
Responding to student demand for international education that takes into account the larger context of globalization, the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures can offer students the opportunity to learn languages, develop an understanding of literary and cultural traditions, and pursue studies in the field of Linguistics. In addition to programs in the various languages, the department offers interdisciplinary programs, including Indigenous Studies, Spanish and Latin American Studies and World Language Studies.