Degree Programs

Germanic Languages and Literatures

Study for higher degrees in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures (this designation was instituted in 1897) is intended as preparation for a career in teaching and research, although graduates occasionally go on to careers in other areas of education, in public service, and in the business world; see "Careers" in the Graduate Program section of the department website). The emphasis is on literature and cultural studies rather than on the language itself. However, Germanic philology may be studied in courses on historic linguistics, and in conjunction with medieval literature in German and Scandinavian. The resources of the department make it possible for students interested in German literature, but with a secondary interest in another field, such as comparative literature, art history, philosophy, music, history, history of science, or film, to include those disciplines in their dissertation and in their program of courses.

German was first taught in Harvard College in 1825 when Carl (Charles) Follen, a young anti-monarchist and poet, who had fled from Giessen to escape political persecution, became an instructor in German. The impetus for this appointment came, in part, from George Ticknor and Edward Everett (later to become president of Harvard College), who had just returned from studies at the University of Göttingen. By 1850, several instructors were teaching German and by the 1860s, all sophomores were required to study the language. After such Harvard notables as George Ticknor, H. W. Longfellow, and J. R. Lowell had given some coverage to major German poets (from Walther von der Vogelweide to Goethe) in their lectures, a graduate program in German was organized in the 1870s, with the first PhD granted in 1880.

The most eminent scholar in the early years was Kuno Francke, professor of the history of German culture (d. 1929), who in 1903 established the Germanic Museum, now the Busch-Reisinger Museum. Its collections, particularly strong in 20th-century painting and sculpture, are a unique resource for the study of German literature and culture within the broader context of German and Central European art.

The library holdings in German literature had an auspicious beginning when Goethe, in 1819, presented to Harvard College an autographed copy of his Werke. Through informed selection and support by the University and generous donors (Karl Viëtor among them), these holdings, housed mainly in Widener Library, have now grown into what many scholars consider the best German studies research collection in North America. It is supplemented by extensive holdings in Scandinavian and Dutch. This scholarly resource is augmented by manuscripts and rare printed books in Houghton Library, which, next to a number of medieval manuscripts and incunables, contains the Nachlässe, papers, and letters of such major German poets as Hofmannsthal, Rilke, Brecht, and Heine.

The Harvard Film Archive houses an extensive and unique collection devoted to German cinema, which includes 35- and 16-millimeter films, videocassettes, press booklets, and photographs.

Master of Arts (AM)

The department does not admit applicants who only wish to study for the AM degree. The AM is taken as a step toward the PhD. The requirements for the AM are described below.

Prerequisites for Admission — Undergraduate or graduate work in German approximately equal to the requirement for an AB degree at Harvard; deficiencies must be made up.

Academic Residence — Two terms of full-time study. For financial residence requirements, see the GSAS Guide to Admission and Financial Aid or The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Handbook.

Program of Study — The satisfactory completion of an approved program of eight half-courses or the equivalent (see The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Handbook). Four of these courses must be in the group designated in Courses of Instruction as "Primarily for Graduates." Two of the half-courses normally consist of the Proseminar and a seminar. One half-course must be wholly or partly linguistic in character. All graduate students normally take both Germanic Philology 200 (Middle High German) and German 226r, the Proseminar (an introduction to literary research and theory).

Satisfactory Progress — Students must maintain a grade record showing more A's than B's, and no grade lower than B-.

Examinations — A four-hour written examination (administered at the beginning of the student's third term) in which the student demonstrates an ability to interpret literary texts and to place them into their historical contexts, and a one-hour oral examination, which includes a brief presentation in German. The AM examinations are based on a departmental reading list. No master's thesis is required.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Prerequisites for Admission — Permission to proceed, granted by the department on the basis of course work, performance in the AM examination, and scholarly potential as judged by the department. Alternatively, an AM degree or equivalent from another university.

Academic Residence — A minimum of two years of full-time study. Credit for graduate work done elsewhere may be granted in accordance with procedures detailed in The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Handbook.

For financial residence requirements, see the GSAS Guide to Admission and Financial Aid or The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Handbook.

Program of Study — The satisfactory completion of an approved program of eight half-courses beyond the AM degree. All graduate students are required to take German 226r, the Proseminar (an introduction to literary research and theory). PhD students must also take at least two half-courses in Germanic philology, normally Germanic Philology 200 (Middle High German) and Germanic Philology 225 (History of the German Language). Linguistics 168 (Introduction to Germanic Linguistics) or Linguistics 247 (Topics in Germanic Linguistics) may be substituted for Germanic Philology 225. Not more than two half-courses from the group "For Undergraduates and Graduates" may be counted, including courses taken for the AM degree, unless the student arranges with the instructor to upgrade the course and completes the requisite form; all others must be "Primarily for Graduates." Permission may be obtained from the director of graduate studies to take a course in another department, including, among others, Comparative Literature, History, Philosophy, or Music. Such courses are expected to be relevant to the main study program in German and should serve to enrich and broaden the program. The maximum number of courses taken outside the department shall normally not exceed the number of courses required to complete a Secondary PhD Field in a related discipline.

The teaching methods course (Linguistics 200) and courses taken to fulfill language requirements are not included in the minimum requirement. The student must generally be a member of a seminar taught by a member of the German Department for at least three terms and earn a grade of A- in at least one of the seminars.

Students enrolled in the department's PhD program may achieve formal recognition for completing one of a variety of Secondary PhD Fields offered by other departments in fields related to the student's curriculum and scholarly plans, including, for example, a secondary field in Film and Visual Studies. Students interested in declaring a secondary field should consult with the director of graduate studies both in the German department and in the department offering the secondary field as early as possible in their studies.

Languages — All students are required to demonstrate reading proficiency in French, normally achieved by passing French Ax (Reading French), offered by Harvard's Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, with a grade of A or A-, or through some other demonstration of sufficient proficiency, such as previous university-level course work.

Those students wishing to specialize (i.e., to write their dissertations) in philology (historical linguistics) or in the literature of the earlier periods (medieval, 16th century, the Baroque) must also demonstrate considerable reading ability in Latin. This requirement may be fulfilled by a departmental examination. The texts to be translated or summarized will be taken from Latin works of literary merit written by German authors, mainly during the medieval period. The requirement may also be fulfilled by an honor grade (B- or higher) in any course in medieval Latin or in any intermediate course of readings of classical authors given by the Harvard Classics Department.

Applicants are strongly urged to prepare themselves in French (and Latin where applicable) before entrance. Graduate students must satisfy the requirement in French and, where applicable, in Latin before they can be admitted to the PhD general examination.

Satisfactory Progress — Students must maintain a grade record showing more A's than B's, and no grade lower than B-.

General Examination — After completing course work and meeting the language requirement, students must present themselves for the general examination. Students entering the program with an AM degree or equivalent from another university present themselves for the examination at the beginning of their fourth semester; students taking the AM degree at Harvard present themselves for the examination at the beginning of their sixth semester.

The written examination consists of two four-hour sessions, a week apart. The first covers any one of the following periods: (i) medieval literature, (ii) 1500–1750, (iii) 1750–1830, (iv) 1830–1910, (v) 1890–1945, (vi) 1945–present. The students will be responsible both for the principal literary texts in their chosen period and for the pertinent scholarship. The second examination will cover any one of the following fields: (i) lyric poetry, (ii) drama, (iii) narrative fiction, (iv) a special topic defined by the student in consultation with the examination committee, (v) Germanic philology (linguistics).

A two-hour oral examination follows within two weeks.

Dissertation — After passing the general examination, the candidate must present a dissertation on a subject that has been approved by the department and one that will normally fall within the area where the special period and special field converge. The object of the dissertation is to show the candidate's ability to pursue independent research and to present the results of this research in a readable and convincing form.

Dissertation Prospectus — A prospectus of the doctoral thesis, 1,500–3,000 words in length, plus bibliography, that explains its intellectual motivation and scholarly aims and outlines in detail the progression of the argument through its chapters, must be completed, to the satisfaction of the dissertation committee, within three months of the completion of the General Examination. The committee (the Dissertation Director and two other members of the faculty) meets with the candidate to discuss the prospectus, after which it makes a recommendation on acceptance to the full faculty of the department.

Dissertation Defense — A dissertation defense is scheduled and conducted as set forth in the departmental guidelines on the Dissertation Defense (available from the DGS).

Teaching Experience — Students are required to acquire experience teaching the German language or, in keeping with the student's program of study, another Germanic or Nordic language. The expectation is that the student will teach, at the very least, one full year of Beginning German.


Inquiries about admission and financial aid should be addressed to the Admissions Office, Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center 350, 1350 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138-6531. Applications are submitted online; if necessary, arrangements can be made for an alternative form of submitting recommendations. See the GSAS Admissions site.

Applicants wishing information regarding courses and programs not included in the materials accompanying application forms may write to the Director of Graduate Studies, Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, Barker Center 365, 12 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA 02138-3879; or visit our web page.

Financial Aid

Graduate students in the department have for some time benefited from the financial aid plan of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. During their first two years and their dissertation completion year, eligible students receive financial support adequate to meet both tuition and living costs. During the other years of graduate study, students supplement tuition grants by working as teaching fellows (see below). The department has set the median length of graduate study for the doctorate (excluding leaves) at five years. Eligible students are guaranteed adequate financial support (grants, teaching fellowships) for this period. Furthermore, the department is normally able to support graduate students through teaching fellowships for the duration of their graduate studies, although not beyond an eighth year.

Substantial additional benefits derive from three endowed competitive prizes reserved primarily for graduate students in the department:

1. The Bernhard Blume Awards for Excellence in the Study of German. Established in 1969 by an anonymous donor in honor of the late Bernhard Blume, Kuno Francke Professor of German Art and Culture, Emeritus. Two prizes award approximately $1,000 each to graduate students who have attained the best record in course work in the first three terms and the second three terms.

2. The Jack M. Stein Teaching Fellow Prize in German. An award of $1,000 sponsored annually by the Graduate School Fund and named in honor of the late Professor Jack M. Stein, who was instrumental in raising the quality of language instruction in the department. The prize is awarded each year to a teaching fellow who, in the judgment of a faculty committee visiting classes, conducts undergraduate sections with the highest measure of pedagogical skills, linguistic proficiency, enthusiasm, and commitment to students' learning and welfare.

3. The Esther Sellholm Walz Prize, established in 1977 by Hans G. Walz, Class of 1924, in memory of his mother. A prize of approximately $1,000 is "awarded annually to a graduate student pursuing studies in German or Scandinavian language with the intention of entering the teaching field for the best paper or essay" as determined by a faculty committee.


Graduate students may hold annual appointments as a teaching fellow, normally beginning in their third year of study. Opportunities are provided to teach elementary and intermediate language classes, to tutor undergraduates in literature, and, upon application, to teach discussion sections of courses in literature and intellectual and cultural history given by members of the department. Teaching fellows in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures may also participate in General Education courses in Harvard College, usually as leaders of discussion sections.

Prerequisites for a teaching fellowship in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures are excellent command of written and spoken German and Linguistics 200.

The coordinator of language instruction tests the proficiency in German of incoming students at the beginning of their first term. If deficiencies are evidenced, the student is required to remedy them before beginning teaching. A variety of options are available for improving language skills.

Recent Dissertation Titles

  • Julie Allen, "Representations of Denmark in Fin-de-siècle German and Austrian Literature"
  • Robert Bock, "Unerhörte Metaphern: The Crisis of Language and the Salvational Potential of Metaphor in the Work of Robert Musil"
  • Daniel Bowles, "Satire after Satire: The Afterlife of Satiric Practices in German Literature and Literary Theories since 1950"
  • Elio Brancaforte, "Reading Word and Image: Representations of Safavid Persia in the Maps and Frontispieces of Adam Olearius (ca. 1650)"
  • Silke Brodersen, "Die Wirklichkeit im‚ Hohlspiegel der Sinne': Adalbert Stifters Poetik der Wahrnehmung"
  • Andrea Deeker, "Locating the Image: Heiner Müller and the Acoustic"
  • Jillian DeMair, "Telling about the Truth: Negotiations of Credibility in German Narratives"
  • Charitini Douvaldzi, "Aesthetics of Retrospection: Life Narratives in Goethe, Rousseau, Moritz, and Keller"
  • Sara Eigen Figal, "Generating the Good: Fictions of Literature, Law, and Science in 18th-Century Germany"
  • Patrick Fortmann, "Autopsy: Physiology of Love and Anatomy of Politics in Georg Büchner"
  • Ian Fleishman, "An Esthetics of Injury: The Narrative Wound from Baudelaire to Haneke"
  • Mattias Frey, "Good Bye, Lenin? Post-wall Germany's Cinema of Retro-flection"
  • Mark Gagnon, "Celluloid Heros of the Adenauer Eras: Creating New Citizens in the War Films of the 1950s"
  • Sonja Gräber-Magocsi, "Die Vermessung 'Neu-Seellands': Schreibweisen der Psychologien in der deutschsprachigen Literatur der Jahrhundertwende"
  • Geraldine Grimm, "Peter Handke's ‘Mein Jahr in der Niemandsbucht': Narrative and Place"
  • Gundela Hachmann, "Blick in die Zeit: Optische Medien in deutschen Romanen der Postmodern"
  • Anjeana Hans, "Defining Desires: Homosexual Identities and Discourse in German Literature and Culture, 1900–1933"
  • Thomas Herold, "Moderne Mimesis. Die Zeit des Romans im 20. Jahrhundert"
  • Emily Jones, "Verschachtelte Räume: Writing and Reading Environments in W.G. Sebald"
  • Kristin Jones, "Revitalizing Romanticism: Novalis' Fichte Studien and the Philosophy of Organic Nonclosure
  • David Kim, "Imperial Expansion: Translation and Universality in Austro-German Imperial Cultures around 1900"
  • Hang-Sun Kim, "Unser Dasein starrt von Büchern: Hugo von Hofmannsthal's Crisis of Authorship"
  • Justice Kraus, "Science Functions: Musil, Kafka, Broch"
  • Pascale LaFountain, "Flaws, Mistakes, Misreadings: Error and the Human Sciences in Drama around 1800"
  • William Layher, "Queen Eufemia's Legacy: Middle Low German Literary Culture, Royal Patronage, and the First Old Swedish Epic (1301)"
  • Robert Lemon, "Orientalism as Self-Critique in the Hapsburg Fin-de-siècle"
  • Joseph Metz, "Gendered States: On the Borders of Gender, Nation, and Identity in Stifter and Rilke"
  • Fatima Naqvi-Peters, "The Rhetoric of Victim and Perpetrator: Austrian Literature and Film, 1986–1995"
  • Lena Norrman, "Women's Voices, Power, and Performance in Viking Age Scandinavia"
  • Michael Saman, "Goethe as a Reader of Kant, 1788–1832"
  • Claudia Svoboda, "Narrative Illusion: Textual Ambiguity and Problems of Seeing in Four Novellas of Heinrich von Kleist"
  • Brigitta Wagner, "Berlin Films and the Cultural Politics of Spatial Memory"
  • Joel Westerdale, "Nietzsche's Aphoristic Dynamite"

Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures Faculty