Middle Eastern Studies
The Center for Middle Eastern Studies
The Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) was established in 1954 for the purpose of supporting research and teaching in the languages, literatures, history, governments, economics, and cultures of North Africa, the Middle East, and Central and South Asia, with the emphasis on the modern period.
At the core of its teaching and research is the pursuit of firsthand knowledge about the Middle East based on literacy in its languages and an understanding of its political and economic realities, its culture and traditions. To achieve these aims, the Center cooperates with faculty having a Middle Eastern interest, with other regional studies centers, and with Harvard libraries and museums holding collections related to Middle Eastern and Islamic studies.
The Center’s aim is to offer a comprehensive program of training for those planning careers in education, government service, and in the private sector, as well as to support research on the area. More than 50 members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences are associated with the Center; in addition, Middle East specialists are found in the Law School, the Business School, the Kennedy School of Government, the Divinity School, and the Graduate School of Design.
The Center publishes a listing of courses relating to the Middle East each year, usually totaling over 200 undergraduate and graduate courses and seminars offered in the departments of Anthropology, Government, History of Art and Architecture, History, Religion, Sociology, and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.
Committee on Middle Eastern Studies
The Committee on Middle Eastern Studies is a standing committee of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences charged with the administration of graduate degree programs in Middle Eastern studies. The members of this committee are drawn from the faculty associated with the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. The committee offers the following programs:
Regional Studies — Middle East, a two-year program of study leading to the Master of Arts (AM) degree.
Joint Programs for the PhD — Joint programs for the degree of PhD:
- Anthropology and Middle Eastern Studies
- History of Art and Architecture and Middle Eastern Studies
- History and Middle Eastern Studies
All students admitted to the degree programs are expected to meet the requirements of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, presenting specifically a bachelor’s degree from a recognized institution (or a satisfactory equivalent), a superior undergraduate record, and other indications of promise. The GRE General Test is required. Requests for admission and financial aid application forms should be addressed to the Admissions Office, Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center, 3rd floor, 1350 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138. We encourage online submission of the application. See www.gsas.harvard.edu.
The program for this degree requires two years of study. It seeks to give the student both a broad background and a special competence in selected fields of Middle Eastern affairs. Each student’s needs and interests, as well as previous experience and qualifications, are taken into account in planning his or her course of study. Academic research and writing skills are emphasized in both the students’ elective and required coursework.
Admission — Admission is based on the applicant’s previous record, general ability, and promise. Knowledge of a modern Middle Eastern language is not a prerequisite but will be taken into consideration as well as all previous experience in the Middle East.
Financial Aid — Harvard does not offer funding for AM students. Prospective AM students are encouraged to apply for external fellowships and grants, including the academic year Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowship (for those students who are US citizens). AM students who are US citizens or permanent residents may also apply for federal aid, including Perkins Loans, Federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans, and Federal Work-Study. All students may apply for HELP loan funding regardless of citizenship status.
Academic Residence — Students must be registered as full-time students in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences for four terms (two academic years).
- Graduate Proseminar in Middle East Studies (MOME 200A)
- One course in medieval Middle Eastern History (600–1500, CE)
- One course in modern Middle Eastern History (1798–present)
- Three additional courses related to the Middle East, two of which must be graduate seminars
- Four consecutive Middle East language courses: Arabic, Persian, Turkish or Hebrew
- Master's Thesis Writing course (MOME 299B—for those writing a thesis. Students enrolled in the AM program may choose to write a master's thesis, but a thesis is not required to complete the degree; those considering further graduate study are strongly encouraged to write a master's thesis)
- Remaining courses are electives, to be chosen by student in consultation with director of the AM program
Languages — All students in the program are expected to attain a reading and speaking competence in one of the major modern Middle Eastern languages: Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, or Turkish. Students who are native speakers will be required to study a second language.
Joint Programs for the PhD
Admission — A bachelor’s degree, ordinarily with distinction. Preference for students who have completed a masters degree or otherwise demonstrated substantive engagement with Middle Eastern Studies is generally expected of applicants. All applicants are required to take the aptitude tests of the Graduate Record Examinations. In addition to academic qualifications, admission decisions are based on the best possible fit between a student’s prospective research area and the current areas of research and teaching of department faculty.Strong preference will be given to applicants who are adequately prepared to meet the European and Middle Eastern language requirements for the doctorate.
Financial Aid — Incoming CMES PhD students are guaranteed a financial aid package including grants covering tuition and living expenses in their first two years, tuition and living expenses in the form of assured eligibility for a Teaching Fellowship in their third and fourth years, and tuition in their final year. In addition, they are eligible for summer research awards in the summers following their first and second years in the program. Some aid offers are granted on the basis of merit, others are based on an analysis of student resources, while still others reflect a combination of merit and need. For detailed information about financing study at GSAS, please see the Prospective Students page
Academic Residence — A minimum of two years is required. In most cases, however, fulfillment of all requirements for the degree in the joint program will involve at least one additional year of preparation.
Dissertation — Specific requirements for individual programs are detailed below.
The student will fulfill all the requirements for the PhD in social anthropology (as listed in this publication under “Higher Degrees in Anthropology”). In addition, the student will also fulfill the following language and area requirements of the Committee on Middle Eastern Studies:
Languages — Students are required to demonstrate competence in another European language other than English if it is essential for their dissertation research. Students from the region are required to show competence in another ME language other than their own native language if that language is required for their research; all other students are required to show competence in one of the following: Arabic, Hebrew, Persian or Turkish (or another major regional language, with approval of their committee).
Courses— In addition to the courses required for the PhD in Social Anthropology, the student will take at least three half-courses in Middle Eastern history, economics, religion, or political science. Other fields of study from related areas may be approved to meet this requirement by petition to the committee.
General Examination— The General Examination in social anthropology is designed as a process that builds from the first year (G1) of graduate studies through the third year (G3). The stages of this process, with the required courses and activities relevant to each stage, are outlined here: http://www.gsas.harvard.edu/programs_of_study/anthropology.php
Dissertation — The dissertation will normally be based on fieldwork conducted in the Middle East, or in other areas of the world with close cultural ties to the region. The dissertation should demonstrate the student’s ability to use source material in one or more relevant Middle Eastern languages.
The student will fulfill the requirements for the PhD in History of Art and Architecture, with minor adjustments to be discussed with his or her advisor. In addition, the student will also fulfill the following language and area requirements of the Committee on Middle Eastern Studies.
Languages – Each student must complete at least two years of residence, and fulfill the following language requirements: to obtain proficiency in one of the following Middle Eastern languages: Arabic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish, or another appropriate language (such as Urdu). Depending on area of concentration, students may be required to study a second Middle Eastern language as well. Students must also acquire a reading knowledge in a European language (e.g., French, German, Italian, Spanish or Russian).
Courses – In addition to the work on Islamic art and architecture, the student must take at least one half-course and one seminar in some other field of art history, and at least one-half course and one seminar in some other aspect of Middle Eastern studies. Classes should be chosen in consultation with the student’s advisor in the History of Art and Architecture Department.
General Examination — The student will be expected to take his or her General Examinations at the History of Art and Architecture Department: two written examinations in a selected general and a specific field of Islamic art and architecture, and a third oral examination on “connoisseurship”. The latter will require the identification of visual materials, inscriptions, and/or illustrated manuscript texts chosen by the examination committee. The committee should include two art historians from History of Art and Architecture and one faculty member from CMES.
Dissertation – The student should follow the requirements for the PhD in History of Art and Architecture Department.
Fields of Study — As soon as possible after entering the program, and no later than the end of the first year, the student should select an advisor (who must be a member of the Department of History) in consultation with whom four fields of study will be chosen for presentation at the General Examination. This selection of fields is to be set down in written form and signed by the advisor. This plan will also state the student’s choice of courses and language examinations during the first two years. A student wishing subsequently to propose changes in this study plan must do so in the form of a written petition to the advisor.
Languages — Each student must pass the Department of History’s language exam in one of the following: French, German, Russian or Italian. Students must also attain proficiency in a modern Middle Eastern language: Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, or Turkish. Depending on the student’s specialization, another Middle Eastern or Islamic language (e.g., Kurdish, Urdu) may be substituted with the approval of the Committee on Middle Eastern Studies. “Thorough knowledge” would normally translate into a minimum of four years of language study with a final grade of B- or above. Native speakers of these languages will be required to master a second Middle Eastern language. A written examination in the Middle Eastern language selected will be administered by the Committee on Middle Eastern Studies and must be taken within a year of passing the General Examination (the “fourth field” general exam).
While not required to do so, students are strongly encouraged to master at least one additional Middle Eastern language. The expectation is that the student learn the languages necessary to teach and work in his or her chosen field.
Courses — Students usually take four courses each semester of their first two years in the program. Eight of these courses must be taken for a letter grade. In the first semester, each student must pass the introductory seminar on methodology, History 3910: The Writing of History: Approaches and Practices, with a grade of satisfactory. Students must take at least two additional seminars for a letter grade; one in Middle Eastern history, and one in Western history. A student wishing to substitute for Western history a seminar on African or East Asian history, or other pertinent field, may petition the Committee on Middle Eastern Studies.
Students prepare for the general exam by registering for a series of History 3010s. This is a directed study that students take with each member of the general exam committee. 3010 is by default graded as satisfactory or unsatisfactory, and does not count toward the required eight courses. However, by completing a petition to take 3010 as a graded course, students may simultaneously satisfy the letter-graded course requirements outlined above and prepare for the general exam. A graded 3010 may count as a research seminar, as a history department course, or as an elective, but it may not be used in place of History 3900.
General Examination — The General Examination examines four established fields of the Department of History and the Committee on Middle Eastern Studies. One of the four fields must be in Western history and two must be in Middle Eastern history. The three established fields in Middle Eastern history are medieval Islamic history, Ottoman history, and modern Middle Eastern history. Students who wish to offer another Middle East-related field (for example, Byzantine history) in place of one of the established Middle Eastern fields should petition the committee for permission. The Department of History’s chronological requirements for historical fields do not apply to the fields submitted for the joint program.
The fourth field is a written language comprehension examination of a major text in the student’s primary Middle Eastern language; it is a separate examination from that which covers the three historical fields.
Prospectus — The dissertation prospectus must be completed and approved within one year of passing the first three fields of the generals. It must be written in conformity with the Department of History guidelines, as detailed in the History Department Graduate Student Handbook.
Dissertation — The dissertation must be read and approved by a three-member dissertation committee, two of whom are normally permanent members of the GSAS faculty.
The FLAS program (Foreign Language and Area Studies), funded by the US Department of Education, is designed to meet the need for American specialists in education, government, and other fields who will use their skills in training others and promoting a wider knowledge of non-Western languages and cultures. FLAS applications for new students are found in the admissions application.
Other Harvard fellowships and grants are competitively open to CMES students each year.
The Harvard libraries are particularly rich in materials for the study of Middle Eastern countries, and are continually being expanded. Outstanding Arabic and Hebrew collections are supplemented by extensive Persian and Turkish resources, as well as holdings in other languages of the region. The Law School, the Divinity School, the School of Business Administration, and the Littauer Library, as well as the libraries of various museums, also have substantial specialized collections.
The Cambridge and Boston area is especially fortunate to be endowed with important Near Eastern collections in its major museums. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has one of the outstanding collections of ancient Egyptian art and archaeology in the world, many of the objects deriving from the joint expeditions of Harvard University and the Museum of Fine Arts to Egypt and the Sudan. It also possesses a fine collection of Islamic art and a selection of ancient Mesopotamian and Syrian objects. The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology has a useful study collection of early material from the Middle East as well as a significant North African collection. In addition, the Sackler Art Museum has a fine collection of Islamic art and good examples of sculpture and bronzes of earlier periods.
Course offerings vary from year to year; for specific details see Courses of Instruction offered by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, or the annual listing of Middle East-related courses published online by CMES. The Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations offers language instruction at all levels in Arabic, both modern and classical, Hebrew, Persian, Turkish, Urdu, and other relevant languages. History courses usually cover ancient, Byzantine, Islamic, and Ottoman history; in addition, several courses are offered on the history of the modern Middle East. Courses on Islam include Islamic doctrines and sects, Islamic institutions, and Islamic law. Courses and seminars are also given in Middle Eastern anthropology, economics, history of art and architecture, government, linguistics, religion, and sociology.