Columbia SPPO


Why study Spanish, Portuguese, and Catalan

The Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures at Columbia is a leading institution for Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian studies, with a faculty of experts in fields covering both sides of the Atlantic and all historical periods, from the medieval to the postmodern. The department's courses aim to study culture as the larger contextual grid in which individuals and social objects find their ultimate meaning and which they, in turn, help to construct. Literature is not assumed to be a closed order of works that reveals essential and immutable human traits, but one of a number of discourses produced at a given moment in history by a specific social circumstance. In fact, the very category of "literature" to define an esthetic artifact is a relatively recent invention that dates back to the late eighteenth century.

Majors and concentrators in Hispanic Studies and Portuguese Studies are typically double majors who bring to our courses insights and methods derived from other disciplines and fields such as history, political science, women's studies, anthropology, economics, Latino studies, Latin American studies, etc., which makes for engaging class discussions. See the various major and concentration programs offered by the department, as well as the list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the major and the concentration.

A recent study of academic departments of Hispanic Studies in the United States concluded the following about Columbia's major: "Columbia’s program is the only one we found that has truly reconstructed itself from scratch with cultural studies at its core; most other programs appear to have introduced changes without significantly upsetting the status quo that maintains a central focus on literature. No other program compared to Columbia’s for its innovative structure."

The language and major programs in our department have been designed in close consultation and cooperation with Barnard's Department of Spanish and Latin American Cultures. All courses taken in one program may be used to fulfill the requirements of the other. Hence, Columbia and Barnard students may move freely between the departments of both institutions in search of the courses that best fit their intellectual interests.

Below you will find some of the reasons why you should consider studying Spanish, Portuguese, and Catalan languages and cultures in our department:


Given the demographic circumstances of the United States, the label "foreign language" is no longer appropriate to describe the status of Spanish in this country.

Consider the following statistics: in the ten years between 1990 and 2000, the Hispanic population of the United States grew by 58%; from 2000 to 2004, Hispanic population growth accounted for almost 50% of the population growth in the entire country; in 2003 the Bureau of the Census made the stunning announcement that Hispanics had overtaken Blacks as the largest racial/ethnic minority in the United States. That same office projected that by 2050 one quarter of the population in the United States will have Hispanic roots. The Hispanic population in the United States is the largest of any country in the Spanish-speaking world except for Mexico and Spain.

Closer to home, almost one third of all residents of New York City are speakers of Spanish, and hail from a diverse collection of countries and geographic areas. Columbia is situated in the midst of a vibrant Hispanic community whose roots in the city go back to the last quarter of the ninete enth century, when a number of daily and weekly newspapers and magazines were published in Spanish.


Portuguese is the sixth most spoken language in the world, with about 230 million speakers worldwide. It is spoken in Portugal, Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Sao Tomé and Principe, Guinea-Bissau, the Cape Verde Islands, East Timor and Macao. The modern Luso-Brazilian world encompasses an astonishingly diverse array of cultures and has a long, rich, and complex history. Similarly, the cultural and economic rise of Brazil underscores the language's importance.


Catalan is the language of the most culturally prominent autonomous region of Spain. Over ten million people speak Catalan in the provinces of northeastern Spain, Andorra, and the Balearic islands, whose cultural capital is the awe-inspiring metropolis of Barcelona, a city that was the context for some of the most daring and innovative works produced by the fin-de-siècle international phenomenon of Modernism.

Use the menus on the left to explore all the opportunities that the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Columbia has to offer. For more information, contact the department's Director of Undergraduate Studies.