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Text of lecture by APR Howatt

The Dakin Collection

A.P.R. Howatt

[A paper read at the Centre for English Language Teacher Education, University of Warwick, 7th May 2005, to mark the official opening of the Warwick ELT Archive]

Thank you

First of all can I thank the Centre and the University of Warwick very warmly for inviting me down from Edinburgh to attend today’s ceremony and for asking me to participate in it with a few words on the origins and contents of the Dakin Collection, which is I understand due to play a significant role in your future plans. This is a particularly auspicious occasion for the Collection since it is the first time its existence has been publicly acknowledged in this way.

The Dakin Collection is now in safe hands

I must say at the outset that I am more than grateful to Richard Smith for providing such a suitable and I hope long-term home for the Collection. Until he arrived in the then Department of Applied Linguistics [University of Edinburgh] in 1998 I was becoming increasingly concerned that the future of the archive was threatened by my impending retirement at a time when the University of Edinburgh was poised to enter a period of major restructuring. The Collection had never been a formal part of the catalogued property of the University Library, as I shall explain shortly, and with every nook and cranny of the university’s premises being held to financial account in an increasingly rigorous manner, the future of the space occupied by the Collection, modest though it was, was very far from secure. I must add, however, that the attitude of my former colleagues towards it was always positive and helpful. Nevertheless, the writing was clearly on the wall: it did not easily fit in with the likely direction of their future activities. It was therefore with a sense of relief that I saw the discussions on its future earlier this year come to a successful conclusion.

The plan of my talk

To move on then to my contribution to this afternoon’s events, my first duty is to outline the history of the Dakin Collection and in doing so to draw attention to its strengths and weaknesses as they have emerged over the past thirty years or so. I can best begin by describing how the Collection started and why it has that name. We can then go on to discuss the contents in detail, and say something about their wider significance for the study of the history of language teaching.

What is the Dakin Collection?

At its simplest, the Dakin Collection is a library of practical classroom materials designed for the teaching of English and other languages. It grew up around 1970 (there was no exact date) partly as an archive and partly as a resource for students in response to the growing importance of practical aspects of applied linguistics. It consists mainly of textbooks, practice books and the like, but it also includes reference books and a sprinkling of works of a more theoretical applied linguistic nature. It was allocated space in 14 Buccleuch Place, which at that time housed what had become the applied linguistics section of the Department of Linguistics, and at that time it was known simply as ‘the textbook library’.

Why ‘The Dakin Collection’?

In 1972 it was named after Julian Dakin, a young lecturer who had joined the department with Pit Corder back in 1964 and who enjoyed a fast-growing reputation in all aspects of the subject but with a special commitment to the understanding and enhancement of the language learning process among young schoolchildren. He had just returned from a three-year secondment in Calcutta when he died suddenly while cycling to work in the second week of the Autumn Term 1971. He was still only in his early thirties.

At that time the applied linguists in the department were busy preparing the material for the third volume of the Edinburgh Course in Applied Linguistics (or ‘ECAL 3’ as it came to be known), which carried the sub-title ‘Techniques in Applied Linguistics’. It took the form of a collection of papers relating to practical applied linguistic studies with accompanying tasks and exercises to which Julian himself had contributed and which reflected his influence in the department generally since 1964. It was decided to dedicate it to his memory, and at the same time a number of colleagues felt that it would be appropriate to perpetuate his name in the department by associating him with the embryonic textbook library for which many of the books and papers he left behind would be well suited. In this way the library became known as ‘The Dakin Collection’. Julian was a rather self-effacing man in many ways and there is only one known photograph of him in Edinburgh, but it has been enlarged from a group photo so it looks very grainy. I managed to find it again last week and I have brought it with me; perhaps you might like to display it somewhere.

A small fund

At the same time as naming the Collection, colleagues set up a small working fund by generously donating their royalty fees from ‘ECAL 3’, which was finally published by Oxford University Press in 1974. Sadly the funding lost the 1970s battle against inflation and could not be used to finance a systematic acquisitions policy, though it remained useful enough for a number of simple administrative purposes and the occasional purchase.

Dependence on donations

As we shall see shortly, the Collection was founded on donations, in particular by the leading ELT publishers in the UK, but its continuing separation from the wider university library system meant that it remained dependent on the generosity of staff and students and of well-wishers of many different kinds. What has given it a special flavour, however, has been the fact that students from all over the world who brought samples of their local textbooks for use in Diploma and MSc projects of various kinds often donated them to the Collection on their departure. I am sure this will remain a feature of its existence in its new home in Warwick. The Collection has received so much help over the years that it would be invidious to name individuals, but I would like to make an exception for three who provided us with particularly important items, the first was Pit Corder who left his entire working library to the new Institute for Applied Language Studies when he retired in 1983 and older items were passed on to the Collection, second Elizabeth (‘Betsy’) Uldall whose early career had included teaching English as a foreign language in the Middle East before and during the war and who possessed a number of very interesting documents relating to the early years of applied linguistics at Edinburgh, including the background papers to the Makerere Conference in 1961 which I found invaluable for the second edition of my History of English Language Teaching, and finally, from outside the department, Frank Bell, the founder of the Bell Schools, who very kindly presented a number of important texts on his retirement in 1985. I would also like to thank the British Council for inviting me to cherry-pick the library at the English-Teaching Information Centre (ETIC) before it finally closed, as a result of which the Collection gained a number of significant works by Harold Palmer and A.S. Hornby, in particular from Palmer’s time in Tokyo as Director of IRET, including signed copies which have been given to Richard Smith for safe-keeping.

The contents: the two donations

After this account of how the Collection started, I should like to move on to describe in more detail what it contains and how it was built up. As I suggested earlier, the Collection would not exist without the generosity of the three major British ELT publishers in the early days: Longmans, Green (as it then was), Oxford University Press and Macmillan, all of whom made substantial donations of pedagogical materials to support the teaching of practical applied linguistics, and who did so on two separate occasions. The first was in the period 1957-59 and the second a dozen or so years later in the late 60s. On both occasions the gifts provided invaluable resources which could not have been acquired in any other way, but in our present context today the earlier one stands out as being particularly significant since it equipped Edinburgh with an unrivalled collection of early ELT materials which now form the basis for an archive which stretches back to the 1920s and even a little beyond.

The first donation (1957-60)

So - it all began back in 1957 when the University of Edinburgh opened the School of Applied Linguistics, designed initially to provide an opportunity for academic study to experienced senior personnel both from the UK and overseas who were professionally involved in the teaching of English as a foreign or second language (languages other than English followed later). Naturally the venture attracted a great deal of interest from the language teaching profession generally both in this country and abroad. The first of the textbook donations I mentioned a moment ago was one indication of this interest, but the new School also received some historically valuable material from institutions overseas, notably in the United States: the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) for instance, the US Army School in Monterey, and the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington.

The School Library

However, materials of a practical schoolroom nature were not seen as appropriate acquisitions by the University Main Library, so the School set up its own private library but with the blessing of the University (this explains the presence of Edinburgh University Library labels on most of the early materials, but they did not share the same classification system and they were not entered into the official catalogue). This independence was very attractive but its later loss put it at an almost fatal disadvantage, as we shall see.

Stay with the 1957 donation

Before continuing with the narrative, I would like to stay with the material relating to this early period for a while longer, and for two rather different reasons: the first is that it represents an unusual, probably unique, phase in ELT publishing in this country, and the second is the light it throws on the broader picture of language teaching history in this country and abroad.

The Second World War and ELT research

This weekend we scarcely need to be reminded that the watershed event of the twentieth century was the Second World War, and its impact on British ELT was crushing. Before the war, there had been a sense of excitement and growth derived from ground-breaking research in various parts of the world: Harold Palmer and A.S. Hornby in Tokyo for instance, Michael West in India, Lawrence Faucett in China, with everything culminating in the vocabulary control conferences in New York and London in the mid-30s. Back in the UK there was more innovation with C.K. Ogden’s ill-fated ‘Basic English’ in Cambridge and the growth of English as a foreign language in London represented by C.E. Eckersley’s Essential English, which began publication in 1938 alongside the first fruits of the earlier research like West’s ‘New Method Series’, for instance, and Faucett’s Oxford English Course.

By contrast, after 1945 research in ELT in this country ceased altogether and there was virtually no innovative British activity overseas, either. As we shall see, the intellectual leadership in language pedagogy had already passed to the United States in the early 1940s with Fries’s work at the English Language Institute at Michigan and later it was to move to France (with le francais fondamental and the ‘Audio-Visual Method’), only returning to this country in the 1970s with initiatives like ESP, communicative language teaching, and what one might call ‘applied discourse studies’. In Britain the effect of the war (and the ageing process, too, one assumes) had been to bring the professional leadership back home to London, where from 1945 onwards it formed a very tightly-knit and localised community. There was the British Council, for example, London University including the Institute of Education which offered the only TEFL training opportunity in the country, the major ELT publishers, the Colonial Office, the BBC (‘English by Radio’) and so on - and virtually all the men who were active in the field (there were no women) were closely associated with these institutions, if not employed by them. As they saw it, their primary task was not to innovate but to refine and improve what had become ‘the standard model’ of ELT course design and to ensure that it was adopted around the world by native and non-native English language teachers working in a very widely scattered profession with little if any face-to-face contact. It was a centre-periphery structure with a vengeance, though its intentions were benign enough. And the only counter-weight to these powerful centrifugal tendencies were national or (for a time) colonial identities which were adopted as a loosely defined framework for new or adapted course materials (Faucett’s Oxford English Course, for instance, continued in its own right, but there was also an adaptation by a different author, and it became The New Oxford English Course … [ for] … Ghana / Nigeria / East Africa and so on. There is a nice detail in the Collection where the 1956 impression of The New Oxford English Course: the Gold Coast is followed immediately by the 1957 impression called The New Oxford English Course: Ghana.

The post-war publishing crisis

For the publishers themselves this post-war period must have been difficult: traditional markets were in turmoil and new ventures were impossible without a re-energised profession which would produce new authors, new ideas and so on, all of which would take time. Under such circumstances, their immediate response was for the most part limited to re-issuing existing titles, commissioning new editions or, as we have seen, adaptations for use in different parts of the world. It was rare, however, for these adaptations to be very extensive: there were new proper names, new pictures and so on, but there was no attempt, for instance, adapt the linguistic content to suit different mother tongues. The overall effect of this policy was to create a curious ‘timewarp’ effect with pre-war ELT intermingled with the relatively small number of new projects that could be successfully launched at the same time. This was of course the material which arrived on the doorstep of the new School of Applied Linguistics in 1957 and it constituted a ready-made archive of the pre-war achievements. Perhaps we could look at one or two examples.

Examples of the ‘timewarp’: (1) Robb

A particularly interesting example is in fact one of the oldest items in the Collection. This is a beginners’ course of English as a second language for schoolchildren in Egypt published in four slim booklets in 1927-28 under the title Macmillan’s ‘Direct Readers’. The author was called George Robb, whose name is otherwise unknown to me, but it seems he was an official in the Ministry of Education in Cairo, a reminder of the fact that although Egypt had been nominally independent for five years, the independence deal gave Britain residual rights in the country. A word about the title (Macmillan’s ‘Direct Readers’): ‘Direct’ almost certainly refers to the ‘Direct Method’, i.e. the texts are monolingual, but the term ‘Reader’ at this time was more or less synonymous with the modern term ‘Coursebook’, while what we call ‘Readers’ were referred to by Robb as ‘Primers’, a nomenclature which I think derived from British primary schools. This is an interesting echo of colonial education in the nineteenth-century when the entire system of British elementary schooling together with its jargon was exported to the ends of the earth. My main point, however, is that Robb’s ‘Readers’ appear in the Collection in a post-war impression of 1948, twenty years after the original publication, and an inspection of the books shows I think that very little had been changed.

Examples of the ‘timewarp’: (2) Faucett and (3) Eckersley

This ‘timewarp’ was so important that I would like to give two further examples of rather better-known works. Firstly, there was Lawrence Faucett’s Oxford English Course which I have already mentioned. It was first published by OUP in 1933-34, when it was probably the first multi-volume ELT ‘package’ to reach the world market. It was adopted for use in schools in many countries and provided the most influential model of ELT course design of its day, creating what can with some justice be called ‘the standard model’ that was extended and enhanced by the next generation of course writers. After 1945, as we have seen, it was adapted by F.G. French (Faucett himself having returned to America) for use in specific countries, and it continued in the catalogue until the late 1950s. The second example was originally designed for a completely different market, namely adults learning English as a foreign language in the UK. This was C.E. Eckersley’s Essential English for Foreign Students a four-volume course which Longmans, Green first brought out between 1938 and 1942 with new editions (not merely new impressions) in 1945 and then again in 1955. I shall come back to Eckersley in a moment but it is my personal memory that by the late 1950s it had become the most famous course of its time at least so far as native speaker teachers in Europe were concerned.

Artefacts and the reconstruction of the past

Before continuing with this narrative I should like to pick up the notion of ‘the standard model’ which I dropped into the text a moment ago, in order to suggest a broader framework which it seems to me emerges from a study of the role of materials in language pedagogy during the post-war period, both in Britain and elsewhere. I am, however, conscious of the fact that this raises a key issue in our present project as a whole, namely the role of artefacts in the reconstruction of the past and in the resulting creation of motivated and plausible narratives. We are engaged, as it were, in a form of applied linguistic archaeology, and the dangers of improper generalisation are all too well-known. However, unless there is a sample narrative, there is nothing for other minds to engage with and question. So, with some trepidation I will attempt to outline the story which the Collection seems to be reflecting back to us (albeit with many gaps) concerning the history of language teaching in the middle decades of the last century.

The ‘two teachers’

The key feature of an artefact-based approach in our present context is the way in which attention is focused on the role of what has sometimes been called ‘the other teacher in the lesson’, or ‘the teacher in the book’. In the period under discussion we can I think discern a ‘materials-led’ pattern where the teacher in the classroom, is expected to follow a path laid down by the course writer(s), but a major argument for this relationship rested on the belief that overt guidance was actively sought and needed.

The dominance of ‘the teacher in the book’

I am aware of course that if the acquisitions policy of the Collection had been different, we might be looking at a different image - that is the familiar danger of an over-zealous acceptance of inductive methodologies - but I am as sure as I can be that behind the instances of ‘materials-led’ language teaching which I want to take up, there was a genuine conviction shared by all concerned that the work these new departures represented was the best of its time: progressive, modern and sensitive to the prevailing theories of the day. What also held these stories together was a shared desire among all forward-looking practitioners of the time to reform the language teaching which they themselves had experienced at school (grammar, translation, literature and a set of unexamined assumptions about learners which restricted foreign language instruction to ‘academically gifted’ minorities). The new classroom techniques required by modern direct methods were unfamiliar to all teachers, not just non-native speakers, though there is no doubt that the latter found the monolingual approach particularly demanding. The basic point was, therefore, that the new materials had to be as explicit as possible in setting out what they required teachers to do (the syllabus), and how these requirements should be carried out (the methodology). Given these constraints, it was probably inevitable that a ‘standard model’ would emerge and provide the blueprint for what followed. In British ELT this model was, as I have already suggested, Faucett’s Oxford English Course, which in turn drew on the work of Harold Palmer, with whom Faucett had spent a year or so in Tokyo in 1930-31.

The ‘standard model’ of British ELT

The ‘standard model’ could be described as a linguistically sophisticated version of the direct method. It was based on a series of specially constructed texts in which the amount of new vocabulary was tightly controlled and the sentences contained a carefully graded series of grammatical patterns. The texts were also supposed to work as samples of normal English in use, but this was a difficult criterion to attain when the linguistic constraints were so rigidly adhered to. In the classroom the new words and patterns were presented in what Hornby called ‘situations’ in order to avoid translation and, under the powerful influence of slogans like ‘language is a set of habits’, there was a lot of oral practice but virtually no free conversation.

Features like grading and vocabulary control discouraged attempts to vary the materials to suit particular groups of learners and the notion of ‘appropriateness’ was altogether absent. The basic ethos of the approach was that the syllabus defined the English language for all learners and the method was based on the tenets of modern scientific psychology. The model reached its most elaborated form in Hornby’s course for adult learners which started publication in 1954. Even as late as that, it was still necessary to provide teachers with support in the form of Teacher’s Books and similar manuals such as E.V. Gatenby’s English as a Foreign Language: advice to non-English teachers (Longmans, Green, 1944), F.G. French’s three-volume series The Teaching of English Abroad, by which he meant in the colonies mainly (OUP, 1948-50), P. Gurrey’s Teaching English as a Foreign Language (Longmans, Green, 1957), and M.P. West’s Teaching English under Difficult Circumstances (Longmans, Green, 1960).

The exception: ‘Essential English’

The one exception to the ‘standard model’ was Eckersley’s Essential English, in which he accepted vocabulary control but saw no need for the standard model of pattern-based syllabus design. Instead he used lively but sometimes rather quirky conversation texts where a group of representative young adult students discuss the problems of learning English in the living room of their teacher Mr Priestley. Eckersley clearly wrote for native speaker teachers like himself who were working in the UK and specifically in London. He used local cultural references (which the standard model courses avoided) and he also talked about ‘grammar’, which was not unfamiliar to his, mainly European, customers. For better or worse Essential English is a prime example of material that appeals to ‘teacher-led’ self-confidence and this was shared by some but not all his contemporaries.

The rise and fall of materials-led foreign language teaching: the USA, the UK.

The pattern of ‘materials-led’ foreign language teaching repeated itself wherever teachers were likely to need sustained support either because the methods were new to them and they lacked the necessary training, or through lack of fluency in the target language, or of course both. There were further high profile examples in the 1940s and 50’s and even into the early 1960s, all of which are represented in the Collection, though less extensively. The first was in the United States, the next in France and finally we return to the UK.

Fries and ‘applied linguistics’

When we move to the United States in the 1940s we find a growing interest in a new approach to the academic study of language called ‘linguistics’ which had already produced a great deal of ground-breaking research, particularly in the description of hitherto neglected languages, under the guidance of scholars such as Sapir and Bloomfield. Unsurprisingly, it occurred to a number of people to apply this knowledge to the production of materials for the teaching of foreign languages, particularly to adult learners. The key figure in the movement, as we have already noted, was Charles C. Fries, the Director of the English Language Institute (ELI) at the University of Michigan from 1941.

Applied linguistics

This new activity, called logically enough at that time ‘applied linguistics’, provided a detailed rationale for an approach to language pedagogy that was not merely ‘materials-led’ but ‘materials-controlled’. As Fries announced in the first paragraph of his article in the first issue of Language Learning in 1948: “only with satisfactory basic materials can one efficiently begin the study of a foreign language” (Fries 1948: 12). Later in the same article, he expanded his scheme to include the best-known feature of the American approach, the bilingual contrastive principle, when he said: “the most efficient materials grow out of a scientific descriptive analysis of the language to be learned carefully compared with a parallel descriptive analysis of the native language of the learner” (the last clause is printed in italics) (ibid.: 13).

The limitations of the ‘contrastive principle’

The ELI lived up to these principles in courses like An Intensive Course in English for Latin-American Students (1942), … for Chinese Students (1946), and so on. These are materials which unfortunately the Collection has not managed to acquire, though it does have some very good examples of the bilingual approach in courses promoted by the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) at much the same time. However, before we become too impressed by the implications of the contrastive principle (which had no counterpart in this country) we should note that without the special resources of institutions like the ELI, Fries was forced to drop it in favour of using the same materials with students from all language backgrounds. This is quite clear from his four-volume course called the Fries American English Series (Fries & Rojas 1952-3). Although it was developed in Puerto Rico, there is nothing in the support materials to indicate that it was designed specifically for speakers of Spanish. The commercial constraints on bilingual diversification are obvious enough. But without a materials archive would we have been able to pick this point up?

A Diversion: Self-instruction

We’ll continue with the Fries story in a minute, but before we do I’d like to take a break from the ELI and look at something which was happening in Britain at exactly the same time, 1941. This is not really the diversion it may appear to be, the link being the need for bilingual language instruction.

By 1941 the war had already lasted for two years and the country had become a temporary refuge for large numbers of nationals from the occupied countries. Their demand for English lessons was huge and the British Council and others did their best to arrange classes for them (Donaldson 1984), but they often missed classes and self-instructional manuals were the only answer. But these obviously had to be in the students’ mother tongue, so none of the available ELT material was relevant and most of it was designed for schoolchildren. What the Council did was make contact with C.K. Ogden and arrange for his Basic Step-by-Step to be adapted for the purpose and translated into the combatant languages, with special emphasis on the needs of minorities. The result was a series of textbooks of Basic English for speakers of Dutch, Czech, Polish, Norwegian and so on.

In some ways these books are rather curious documents because they were clearly written long before the war started and the texts deal with a world that had ceased to exist for almost everybody. There is even a highly idealistic text on ‘Peace’ which ends with the cliché that in the past war has proved so wasteful that “[this] gives the greatest hope for peace which there has ever been in history” (Ogden 1941: 111).

‘Basic English for Dutch Students’

Although the Collection possesses examples of Basic English itself (the first director of the School, Ian Catford, was a keen supporter for instance, so too was David Abercrombie), it does not yet have an example of this wartime bilingual programme and I think it should. I have two examples in my personal collection at home, and I would like to present one of them to the Collection today, namely Basic English for Dutch Students published in 1941.

‘Pattern practice’ and the Audiolingual Method

To return to Fries and the1950s, Fries’s support for ‘intensive’ courses which aimed to train correct foreign language speech habits as quickly as possible, fostered an approach to teaching which required increasing amounts of structural drilling (called ‘pattern practice’) until around 1960 when the ‘language laboratory’ took the cult of materials to new heights with the removal of teachers altogether. The value of the machine in saving the energies of teachers was a constant ‘sales theme’, but students were less enthusiastic. There are examples of ‘pattern practice’ in the Collection, but technology-based material was less easy to gather.

Audio-visual technology

Technology was also brought into play with the Audio Visual Method developed at St Cloud near Paris in the late 1950s: it consisted of situations depicted in sequences of still pictures on filmstrips which were projected onto a screen at the same time as tape-recorded dialogues were played to the class. The French approach to the relationship between teachers and materials was characteristically uncompromising: only native speaker teachers could do justice to the new method but even they had to be properly trained, which meant they had to attend courses at St Cloud itself. The results were successful, but the method was later adapted to a less rigorous system in which the pictures were printed in coursebooks (e.g. L.G. Alexander’s First Things First (1967)).

Language teaching in Britain

The British reaction to technological change was quite different. Whereas the French saw it as maximising the impact of specially trained native teachers, the British tried to use it as a way of getting round the problem that there were no qualified teachers in the first place. The pedagogical context was the attempt to teach French in primary schools in the 1960s and early 70s, a plan which was rushed into operation in 1963 largely as a result of a highly publicised experiment in a primary school in Leeds where the teacher was not only an experienced language teacher but a native speaker of French as well. The average primary school teacher was neither, but somehow those responsible for the project were persuaded that the recent history of ELT had shown that inexperienced teachers could handle the language teaching task successfully provided they had well-designed materials (this was an allusion to the ‘standard model’ which was consciously borrowed for the project) and that tape recordings could stand in for native speakers and give the children ‘teacher proof’ native models of pronunciation to imitate. Despite the best efforts of all concerned, too much was being asked of many teachers for whom the ‘materials-led’ disciplines of ELT were inconsistent with the discovery ethos of good primary school practice.

The failure of Primary French

Although individual teachers often coped quite well and materials were greatly improved particularly those designed for the secondary schools (Stages 4, 5), Primary French was formally discontinued in the mid-1970s and even more disappointingly the extended project failed to increase the number of languages in secondary schools. Foreign languages had been flavour of the decade in the 1960s, but the good-will ebbed away and it was only with modern communicative approaches, in which materials have been side-lined in favour of tasks and activities, that a new approach to modern languages has been widely accepted. Julian Dakin himself was closely involved with Primary French initially in Leeds and later in Scotland, and also with projects for teaching English as a second language to immigrant children - another new departure of the 1960s - and the Collection has examples of both these enterprises.

Return to the Edinburgh story

It is now time to return to the Edinburgh story.

The new department

In 1964 the School of Applied Linguistics became a university department in the Faculty of Arts when Pit Corder moved from Leeds with Julian Dakin to become the new Head in place of Ian Catford, who left to take up Fries’s old post at Michigan. From our present point of view, this change was a mixed blessing. On the one hand the library of the School became a so-called Class Library and thus became eligible for funding, but on the other it had to adopt the same acquisition rules as the Main Library.

New restrictions and new needs

These new rules meant that it was no longer possible to accept school textbooks and the like into the Class Library, though they continued to arrive on an informal basis. At the same time, however, applied linguistics not only expanded after 1964, it re-orientated its academic work towards a younger and more professionally motivated student body. The result was a course curriculum which took much great account of practical work than had been the case earlier on, and ‘practical work’ included the planning and execution of classroom materials, as the list of topics in ‘ECAL 3’ (already mentioned above) makes clear. Just when we needed an up-to-date resource library, we found we were not allowed to have one.

At some point in the late 60s the department tried to meet some of these needs by arranging a book exhibition to which all the ELT publishers were invited, and the upshot was that exhibitors decided to leave their wares behind in the department provided we undertook to put them on permanent display.

The moment of truth

Then came the moment of truth: in 1969 the Department of Applied Linguistics amalgamated with the Departments of General Linguistics and Phonetics to form a very large Department of Linguistics. This of course meant that the three Class Libraries also had to merge and priority was inevitably given to items that were in the University catalogue and the predictable outcome was that the uncatalogued classroom teaching materials from 1957 (the original donation) were discarded. They were put in a disused bathroom ready for the skip. Fortunately, inertia intervened for long enough for me to rescue them and take them into my own room.

The solution: the Dakin Collection

There were now two sets of language teaching materials in the building without a permanent home: the new donations and the rejects from the Class Library. All that was needed was to put the two together and call it a textbook library. I think this is the point at which I started the narrative at the beginning of my talk. By 1972 the Dakin Collection was in existence and it had been given space of its own in the basement of No. 14. It was now both an archive and a working resource centre serving the needs of students, and it grew considerably during the next decade.

The Collection in the 1970s

The 1970s was a hugely active period in all aspects of language teaching and applied linguistics. Unlike the 1950s when, as we have seen, materials dominated the scene, the 70s showed a very much more self-confident and better trained profession. Materials no longer defined the learning task, they became ancillary to it, available for use when they were needed to further the aims of a lesson segment, an activity, task, etc. but it was no longer assumed that they should take control of the learning. Having said that, however, the whole language teaching scene became very much more complex, and there were continuing needs for the more traditional approaches as well as the new ones. As an illustration of this heterogeneity, the following coursebooks - all quite different in their assumptions concerning the relationship between learners, teachers and materials - were all published between 1974 and 1979 - Access to English (OUP) which used a continuous storyline as a contextualising device and the return of recognizable (if slightly jokey) social situations clearly set in the south of England, but with a ‘standard model’ syllabus to under-pin the work; Streamline (OUP) also a ‘standard model’ course with a lot of help for young and inexperienced teachers (holiday courses), but the entertainment value of the full-page pictures created a very effective counter-weight; Communicate (CUP) the first of the communicative courses influenced by the Council of Europe Threshold Level with a genuine concern for the appropriate use of language in social situations, written with the growing number of overseas students and other visitors in mind; Strategies (Longman) the first fully communicative series, and the first to make the use of language in tasks and activities a central feature - the least ‘materials-dependent’ of the four.

A crisis

By 1979 things had reached a crisis point for the Collection which was trying, with very limited resources, to keep up with the growing pace of publication in the ELT field and elsewhere, and it was necessary for the two functions to be separated. The Collection continued its archival role while the newly established Institute for Applied Language Studies (IALS) took over the resource function for which it had the necessary accommodation, funding, staffing and so on.

Recent times

In the mid-1980s applied linguistics elected to re-establish itself as a separate department, but it found it difficult to sustain a consistent set of resource priorities, one reason being the omnipresent computer which clawed its way to the top of every resource agenda. The Institute was also too strapped for space to accommodate a major archive and I have to confess that the Collection did not do too well in the 1990s. Repair work is needed, if indeed it can be determined when an archive ends and a resource centre begins. More importantly, is an archive merely a museum or does it have role in shaping the future? It comes as quite a relief to realise that it is for others to get their heads round questions like that - not for me any more. And I have every confidence that Richard Smith and his colleagues have all the necessary qualities of intellect, determination, drive and vision to come up with persuasive arguments and coherent plans.

The ‘squirrel principle’

Up to now, as you will have gathered, the basic principle behind the Collection has always been the ‘squirrel principle’, i.e. “if something looks relevant and it seems to be on offer, take it and store it away for later”. For a long time I refused to cut anything back, but recently the constraints of space forced me very reluctantly to prune one area I had hoped might flourish, namely the teaching of the mother tongue and the related field of literacy. Perhaps in the future there will be an opportunity to re-visit this field, partly because it is the oldest field in the history of language teaching stretching back to the beginning of linguistic instruction in deep antiquity.

In the future

I thought I should end by making a few suggestions of areas of the field which have proved more elusive or more difficult to cover, and have not featured as strongly as they might. But one needs to remember of course that the Collection was only one of a network of resources in its parent institution. The Main Library of the University of Edinburgh is exceptionally well-stocked with instructional materials from earlier ages, both original and in facsimile (it seems they don’t count as ‘schoolbooks’), and they are also rich in traditional foreign language courses (grammars and the like). Hence it was my policy for the Collection to readjust the balance by specialising in materials that the Main Library was (quite rightly) never likely to acquire. At Warwick the same principles will obviously apply, but they may work in a different way.

I have five suggestions.

1. The teaching of English as a second language in the empire. Among other things, this should provide a picture of the everyday norm against which new ideas (e.g. Michael West’s New Method reading project in the 1920s) can be evaluated. As the official policy (which excluded the mission schools of course) was to export and repeat in detail what was done in the mother country, it should not be too difficult to trace some of the most widely used texts. In fact the Collection already possesses a 1950s edition of the most famous of these texts, J.C. Nesfield’s Grammar series which originated in the late nineteenth century, but there are many more to find. And there are other questions. Who were the teachers? Did they supplement the set texts with work of their own? Did any of it survive? And so on.

2. The teaching of English as a foreign language overseas. For reasons we have already discussed, the Collection tends to stress the work of native speaker teachers and there are many gaps in the picture it gives of more traditional materials, particularly from the early period. One specific example would be the materials Harold Palmer found in use in Japanese schools in 1922. I am also personally interested in the work of native speaker teachers before the Reform Movement.

These are both very broad categories. The remaining three are much more specific.

3. The history of self-instruction. As I said earlier in talking about ‘Basic English’, the Collection is very strong on classroom materials, but self-instruction has never been one of its categories. Apart from the fact that interest in the topic has revived in recent times, I feel sure that it has probably accounted for much more language learning activity in the world than is normally recognised. And when it comes to minority languages, it is probably the only realistic type of study.

4. The history of technology in language teaching. The Collection just did not have the resources to collect technological materials like records, tapes, etc. let alone the machines themselves. There’s a real gap here in our coverage of methods of teaching spoken language, particularly if ‘technology’ is broadened to include transcription.

5. The history of language teaching in North America. As I said, the Collection has examples of American materials from the 1950s but not from earlier times - what about the great period of immigration around 1900, for instance? There is also the great Canadian bilingual programme which is better known here through applied linguistic theory than through practical classroom teaching materials - were they, for instance, exactly the same for children with French as a second language as for native speaking children?

I hope that I have been able to give some idea of what the Collection has to offer and where it needs to be extended. But all in all I am really delighted to see that it is in enthusiastic and more than capable hands.


Abbs, B. & I. Freebairn. 1977 onwards. Strategies. 4 vols. London: Longman.

Alexander, L.G. 1967. First Things First. London: Longman.

Coles, M & Lord, C. 1974 onwards. Access to English. 4 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Donaldson, F. 1984. The British Council: the first fifty years. London: Cape.

Fries, C.C. 1942. An Intensive Course in English for Latin-American Students. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Fries, C.C. 1948. ‘As we see it’. Language Learning, 1, 1, 12-16.

Fries, C.C. & P.M. Rojas 1952-3. Fries American English Series: for the study of English as a second language. 4 vols. Boston, Mass.: Heath.

Fries, C.C. & Y. Shen 1946. An Intensive Course in English for Chinese Students. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Morrow, K. & Johnson. K. 1979/80. Communicate. 2 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Moulton, W.G. 1961. ‘Linguistics and language teaching in the United States, 1940-1940’. In Mohrmann et al. (eds.) Trends in European and American Linguistics 1930-1960. Utrecht: Spectrum, 82-109.

Ogden, C.K. 1941. Basic English for Dutch Students. Adapted from ‘Basic Step by Step’. London: Evans Bros., in association with the British Council.

Robb, G. 1927-8. Macmillans ‘Direct Readers’. 4 vols. London: Macmillans.

Viney, P. 1977 onwards. Streamline. 3 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press.



The Dakin Collection is a library of textbooks and similar classroom materials for the teaching of English and other languages. It was set up by the applied linguists in the Department of Linguistics in the University of Edinburgh around 1970 and named after Julian Dakin, a young lecturer who died suddenly in 1971. There were two main reasons for its existence. The first was archival: it had become necessary to protect substantial amounts of teaching material of historical interest dating from the late 1920s. The second reason was educational: the teaching of applied linguistics had become more practical in orientation and materials were a key feature, so the department needed a set for exemplification purposes. In 1980 the latter function moved elsewhere leaving the archival one on its own. The Collection benefited from substantial donations by British publishers, particularly in 1957 when the School of Applied Linguistics opened (this provided the basis of the archive) and the second in 1968-70 in response to the new practical interests of students. However, it owes its present size to the continuing generosity of staff and students over more than thirty years; it has never qualified for regular funding.

A.P.R. Howatt, Edinburgh, May 2005