French and Italian have a long history at Indiana University. The first classes in French took place in 1836, and Italian has been taught since 1880. The two programs were first housed in the Department of Modern Languages, founded in 1860 under initial leadership by Emanuel Marquis. They moved to the Department of Romance Languages in 1885, with Samuel Garneras as the first chair.
The Department of French and Italian was created in 1934, when the Board of Trustees voted to divide the Department of Romance Languages into two new departments, separating French and Italian from Spanish and Portuguese. The first chair of the new department was Bert Young.
While the first graduate degree in French was awarded in 1893, the M.A. and Ph.D. degree programs in Italian did not appear in the course bulletin until the 1966-67 academic year. The French Linguistics specialization at the graduate level was created in 1961, although the official distinction between degrees in French Literature and French Linguistics was not made in the course bulletin until 1969-70.