History

In 1934, a group of Cambridge graduates turned modern languages teachers came together to constitute a subject society in memory of Professor Oliver Prior. Professor Prior, a fellow of St John’s College, had worked since 1925 until his death to maintain official links with his former students through regular social gatherings.

The earliest meetings had been private. But the Society grew spontaneously from shared professional interest and flourished through its personal appeal, as its members renewed their contacts with each other once or sometimes twice a year. In 1929, membership had grown to sixty. In 1934, following Professor Prior’s death, a constitution was drawn up and the Society was commemoratively renamed The Oliver Prior Society. Meetings were suspended for the duration of the Second World War and restarted in 1946. In 1960, the first Committee had been formally appointed. The Constitution was revised first in 1963, and again in 1973 to “admit ladies”.

Under the constitution, membership of the Society is extended to “persons who are or have been teachers of modern languages in schools”. In addition, membership is extended to members of the Modern and Medieval Languages Faculty in the University of Cambridge; to members of other institutions connected with the teaching or examining of modern languages, including translating and interpreting; to members of UK cultural missions abroad and to representatives of publishing houses whose work includes the publication of literary and other texts relating to the study of modern languages.

Professor Prior and the teachers who followed his example in the earliest days of the Society understood that there was much to be learned from their meetings. There, a rich mix of teachers discussed matters of mutual intellectual, pedagogical and institutional interest. Through these discussions, they saw that the experience of modern languages students at every level might be enriched.

Since 2012, Chair of the MML Faculty and current President of the Oliver Prior Society Professor Ian Roberts has been working with a team of stalwart supporters and new guardians to revive that founding spirit. In March 2014, almost 100 secondary-level teachers, members of the MML Faculty and representatives of Alliance Française de Cambridge assembled at Downing for OPS 2014. Eighty years on, it was clear from this two-day event that the same conviction in the value of mutual exchange still holds true.

You can read more about OPS 2014 and earlier meetings in the Archive section of this website.

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