Russian at the University of Washington is rooted in the region’s history. The legacy of well-known transportation and utilities magnate Samuel Hill to Washington State includes the Peace Arch at Blaine and Maryhill Museum in Goldendale, which has in its collection an interesting group of nineteenth-century Russian icons. Hill traveled from Asia to Europe in 1901 using parts of the then incomplete Trans-Siberian Railway, and during World War I he carried out a mission for the U.S. Government to evaluate Russian railways.
Russian language instruction was first offered at the University of Washington in the 1915-16 academic year by a German professor, Hans Jacob Hoff. The next year a native speaker of Russian, Elvine Simeon, was hired with financial support from Samuel Hill to teach Russian language, literature, reading and grammar in the Department of Oriental Subjects (founded in 1909). Her courses were listed in the University Catalog for two years, after which there appears to have been a fifteen-year hiatus in the teaching of Russian at the UW. Russian was reintroduced in 1933 by Professor Ivar Spector, an instructor in Oriental Subjects. All through the ’30s and ’40s Spector and George Taylor expanded offerings in Russian literature, history, and culture.
Structurally, we began as a subdivision of the Far Eastern and Russian Institute in 1947. In 1968 we achieved our autonomy as the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, but our ties with our original mother institution (as of 1968, called the School of International Studies, and then the Jackson School of International Studies) are still profound and mutually beneficial.