Graduate Program

PhD Secondary Field in Medieval Studies

Find more information about the PhD Secondary Field in Medieval Studies on the GSAS website.

Medieval Studies is a general term traditionally applied to the study of European and Mediterranean culture and history (and increasingly, to a broader geographic sphere also encompassing Central Asia, the Indian Ocean world, and Africa) during approximately the millennium between 300 and 1500. It also is the name of one of the best-established interdisciplinary fields in the modern university. There are medievalists teaching and conducting research at Harvard in the departments of African and African American Studies, Celtic Languages and Literatures, Classics, Comparative Literature, English, History, History of Art and Architecture, History of Science, Music, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Philosophy, Romance Languages and Literatures, Slavic Languages and Literatures, and the Study of Religion; in the Schools of Design, Divinity, and Law; at the Houghton and Widener libraries; and elsewhere. Several other major research universities treat the field as a discipline, and group students and faculties in medieval studies centers, institutes, or programs: for example, Yale, UCLA, Notre Dame, Arizona, and Fordham in the U.S., the University of Toronto in Canada, and York and Leeds in the U.K..

Medievalist graduate students seldom have the opportunity to apply for jobs in medieval centers. Any Ph.D. project dealing with the medieval world, however, requires knowledge of more than one discipline, and most such projects require specialist knowledge seldom taught in individual departments. The interdisciplinary nature of the field is widely recognized by hiring committees, while department promotion committees sometimes make publication in the field's premier journal, Speculum, published by the Medieval Academy, almost a condition of tenure.

The Ph.D. secondary field in Medieval Studies encourages students to take courses in more than one discipline, and to give them professional recognition for doing so. Like all of the secondary fields, it is not allowed to increase a student's time to degree, but rather has been organized to be as streamlined as possible. Any Ph.D. student studying a medieval subject and intending to go on the job market as a medievalist should consider the secondary field.

The secondary field in Medieval Studies requires completion of four graduate courses (one of which must be in paleography) with a grade of B+ or better, plus the fulfillment of one language requirement in Medieval Latin, Greek, Hebrew, or Arabic.

  • The paleography requirement can be fulfilled by taking Medieval Studies 201, offered every three years; Medieval Studies 202, offered every other year; Classics 277; Classical Philology 285; Arabic 251R; or another approved course.
  • The three additional required courses must be at the 200 level in any medieval subject. Each course must be in a different department, one of which may be the student’s home department.
  • One graduate course taken outside of Harvard may be used to fulfill one of these course requirements (including paleography). Students wishing to use a non-Harvard course for the secondary field in Medieval Studies must have that course approved by the Committee's Director of Graduate Studies, and submit an application for academic credit to the FAS Registrar's office. For more information, including the application form, please consult the GSAS Handbook.
  • The language requirement will be fulfilled by examination, administered by the committee in the fall and spring terms. Please contact the Program's Administrative Director for more information on upcoming exam dates and times.

For further information on the Secondary Field, or for advice on how to devise your own program within the field, please contact the Administrative Director, Sean Gilsdorf.

Completion Form (PDF)

When you have completed the requirements, download this form and bring it for signature to Sean Gilsdorf in Barker 121.

Language Examinations

It is possible to fulfill your Secondary Field language requirement by passing an examination in Latin, Arabic, Hebrew, or Greek. In order to schedule an exam, or for more information, contact the Administrative Director, Sean Gilsdorf.

Arabic, Hebrew, and Greek. Exams in Arabic, Hebrew, and Greek are administered twice a year on a request basis.

Latin. All students who would like to demonstrate proficiency in Latin for their secondary field language requirement may take the Latin examination once each term. The Fall 2019 exam will take place on Wednesday, 6 November from 4:30 to 6:00 pm in Barker 120. All students must register in advance with the Medieval Studies Program. Please note the following requirements:

  • The exam will be 90 minutes in length and will require the translation of a single passage of medieval Latin. Three sample exam texts can be found here. If you can translate one of these passages with reasonable accuracy in approximately ninety minutes, then you are ready to take the exam.
  • You may bring a single dictionary with you. The dictionary must be in print form; no electronic dictionaries are allowed.
  • No laptops or smartphones are allowed. Please bring a pen or pencil. We will supply bluebooks.
  • If you are not in residence, you may arrange to have the exam administered by proxy and mailed so as to arrive before the date of the exam. Please contact the Medieval Studies Administrative Director for more information.