Degree Programs

Slavic Languages and Literatures

The Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures includes among its aims the training of graduate students in the linguistics and literature of the Slavic peoples. Doctoral candidates specialize either in linguistics or in literature, but are required to have some knowledge of both fields. The department offers courses in the various Slavic languages and literatures, including Old Church Slavonic, Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, Czech, and Serbo-Croatian.

Instruction in Russian, Polish, and Old Church Slavonic was introduced at Harvard in the academic year 1896–97 by Professor Leo Wiener, who later added a course in Bohemian, as Czech was then called. In 1930 the late Professor Samuel Hazzard Cross took over the teaching of courses in the Slavic languages and literatures; under him offerings were expanded to include a course in Serbo-Croatian.

The present Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures was established as a separate department of the University under the Division of Modern Languages and Literatures by a vote of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences on January 4, 1949. Professor Michael Karpovich was appointed chair of the department. In the same year, through the devotion and generosity of Professor Cross’s classmate, Mr. Curt Reisinger, the Samuel Hazzard Cross Professorship of Slavic Languages and Literatures was established, and Professor Roman Jakobson named to it. In 1954, the Curt Hugo Reisinger Professorship of Slavic Languages and Literatures was created, with Professor Michael Karpovich as first incumbent. The Alfred Jurzykowski Professorship of Polish Language and Literature was activated in 1971, and held first by Professor Wiktor Weintraub. Chairs in Ukrainian Philology and in Ukrainian Literature were endowed in 1973.

The department, although its specific concerns center on the fields of language and literature, maintains close working ties with other groups studying the Slavic world at Harvard; among these are the Regional Studies Program, the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, and the Ukrainian Studies Program of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute.

The department has two fellowships, the Boris A. Bakhmeteff and the Michael Karpovich, specifically designated for students in Slavic Languages and Literatures. Candidates for degrees in this field are also eligible for regular Graduate School grants-in-aid. The department requires that doctoral candidates work as teaching fellows in its language and literature courses, regarding such experience as an integral part of doctoral training.


Applicants should show knowledge of Russian (or the language of the student’s major field) equivalent to Harvard’s Slavic 103 (third year). Formal training in literature or linguistics is highly desirable for admission to the program. In order to anticipate the language requirement, the candidate for admission should have a reading knowledge of French or German, although this is not a prerequisite.

All applicants to the department are required to submit General GRE scores, as well as an extensive writing sample in English. Any applicant whose native language is not English is required to take the TOEFL exam and achieve a minimal score of 80 on the Internet based test ((IBT), ,or to receive a degree from an institution where the language of instruction is English. Applications without GRE scores and TOEFL results (where applicable) will be considered incomplete.

The department ordinarily interviews finalists for admission by Skype in late January. Short-listed students are invited to campus for a one-day visit in mid-February to meet with faculty and graduate students and to find out more about programs of study available within the department. We strongly urge applicants who may be out of the country in February to so inform the department and try to visit Cambridge before their departure.

Financial Aid

Graduate students pay full tuition for two years, reduced tuition for two years, and a facilities fee or active file fee thereafter. A student must be in good standing and making satisfactory progress toward the degree to be eligible for financial support. To apply for financial aid, a student must complete a financial aid application each year.

Generally, incoming students, unless they are self-supporting, are offered a full financial aid package. Each package includes six years of tuition, plus a stipend in years one and two and guaranteed teaching in years three and four to cover cost-of-living expenses. In addition, incoming students receive four summer research grants, thus providing support over a twelve-month period for the first four years. The sixth tuition payment occurs in the final year and is funded by a guaranteed dissertation completion fellowship, which covers tuition and pays a full stipend.

After the first two years of graduate study students are eligible and expected to teach in the Slavic Department, the General Education program, or in other related Harvard programs to help defray living expenses. In addition to such support, students are encouraged to apply for appropriate Harvard and outside fellowships, and departmental research assistantships.

Library Resources

The collections of Widener Library offer resources for the study and research of Slavic culture without parallel at any American university. The Kilgour collection in the Houghton Library is the finest holding of Russian first imprints in the Western world. The library of the Davis Center houses a separate specialized collection available to enrolled students.

Master of Arts (AM)

The department does not admit candidates for a terminal AM degree. PhD candidates may, however, apply for a master’s degree after having completed, with satisfactory grades, eight half-courses that satisfy department requirements. The degree may also be offered to students unable to complete the doctorate.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

The requirements for this degree are:

Residence (Academic) — Minimum of two years (see The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Handbook). In practice, most students should expect course work to extend into the third year.

Good Standing — The minimum standard set by the department for satisfactory work by graduate students is an A-/B+ average (as many A’s as B’s). Students who fall below this level must, in the following term, demonstrate their ability to meet this minimum in courses taken within the department. Only students who remain in good standing are eligible to take the PhD general examinations.

Special Fields — Slavic literatures, Slavic linguistics.

Program of Study — Out of the 16 half-courses required, at least two must be seminars or conference courses, which involve the writing of a substantial research paper. One-hundred-level courses in literature may be counted for graduate credit with permission of the chair and the professor involved, and on condition that a graduate-level paper be submitted as part of the course work.

There are two general programs of study, corresponding to the special fields listed above. All students are required to take the Proseminar and Old Church Slavonic, the former in the first term of the first year.

Plan A — Slavic languages and literatures with concentration on the study of literature. The candidate will choose one major Slavic language and literature and a minor field, which can be another Slavic language and literature, another European language and literature, Slavic linguistics and language pedagogy, Russian and East European history, or comparative literature (six courses in the major field and four in the minor field).

Plan B — Slavic languages and literatures with concentration on the study of Slavic linguistics. In this program the candidate will choose one Slavic language as the major (four courses), a second Slavic language as the first minor (two courses), and a related elective field as the second minor (two courses). Additionally, Introduction to Comparative Slavic Linguistics and Introduction to Linguistics are required.

Languages — Before the candidate is eligible for the general examinations, a reading knowledge of both French and German or French or German, plus one other language of demonstrable importance to the student’s research interests must be demonstrated, and departmental requirements in the major Slavic language and in the minor Slavic language or languages (one for candidates who have chosen a second Slavic field under Plan A, two for Plan B) must be satisfied. (See the Graduate Program Requirements document available in the department office for more specific details.)

Teaching — As part of their preparation candidates are expected to teach within their areas of specialization. Teaching is supervised by members of the department and includes a program of teacher training.

General Examinations — Before proceeding to write a dissertation, the candidate must pass the following examinations; they will be offered only during the fall and spring terms.

Plan A: Literature

Part 1. A minor field portfolio and collective presentation.

Part 2a. A four-hour written examination that will consist of eight textual excerpts from a range of periods and genres. The author, title, and year the work was written will be identified. The student will write on six of these excerpts, contextualizing each within literary history and the author’s creative biography, and also analyzing the work’s formal features.

Part 2b. A single take-home essay in which the student will be given 48 hours to complete the essay and an expected word count for the result. The written part of the exam is to be taken no more than one month before Part 3.

Part 3. Students will prepare a completed draft of the dissertation prospectus as the first step in Part 3 of the general examinations. In preparing the draft, students are invited to consult widely with faculty in the department. Students will also work closely with the faculty member whom the student has chosen as the dissertation advisor, and with others who seem possible members of the dissertation committee. The completed draft will be submitted to this committee by the last day of classes for the Fall semester of the student’s G4 year.

The planned dissertation committee and the student will meet for a one-hour prospectus conference during the Fall Reading Period. This is meant to be a conversation, with students getting feedback on all aspects of the proposed dissertation – its argument, aims, scope, and components, as well as the plan for research and writing. The prospectus conference will begin with the student offering a brief (ten minutes) presentation of the dissertation’s themes and goals, and questions and discussion will follow, with all committee members participating. Students should come away from this conference with a clear idea of any changes needed in the prospectus itself, and with a clear work plan for beginning dissertation research and writing. In response to the suggestions received at this prospectus conference and subsequently, the student will prepare the final version of the prospectus, to be submitted as soon as possible to the Department for formal approval but no later than Spring Break of the following Spring semester.

Students will share their prospectus and dissertation plans at a graduate student workshop in the spring semester of the G4 year, as the last step in the transition from exam to dissertation writing. The GSAS workshop for graduate students will be the venue for these conversations, and all faculty and graduate students will be invited to participate. These events are meant as much to help the dissertation-writing student, who will get feedback from peers and other faculty, as to engage the larger community in the dissertation projects from the very first. They will also give entering graduate students a sense of dissertation work from the very first, and allow students to learn across the generations and from each other.

Plan B: Linguistics

Part 1. A two-hour written examination, testing the candidate’s knowledge of Slavic linguistics from a comparative-historical or contrastive perspective.

Part 2. A three-hour written examination on the linguistics of the candidate’s major language in the context of the Slavic family; this is taken no more than one month before

Part 3. A two-hour comprehensive oral examination centering on (although not limited to) five "fields"; the fields are to be chosen by the candidate in consultation with the director of graduate studies.

Dissertation — A dissertation prospectus must be submitted for review and approval by all members of the Department. Normally, this occurs in the spring of the fourth year of graduate study. The prospectus will be accompanied by a cover letter, stating the student’s plans for an advisor and dissertation committee. Typically, the Department will approve the committee as requested, and any anticipated adjustments will be discussed in advance through the Director of Graduate Studies. At least two members of the committee must be from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and at least one member from the Slavic Department.

The dissertation must give evidence of original research or of original treatment of the subject and must be in good literary form. It should be completed within three years after the general examinations. The PhD candidate is then asked to give a defense before the members of the Department.

Dissertations are now submitted electronically through ProQuest to the registrar of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences by the deadline established for each degree conferral date. The final manuscript should conform to the requirements described in The Form of the PhD Dissertation. The Department requires that a bound hard copy also be submitted to the Slavic Department, to be maintained in the Graduate Student Reading Room.

Please also see recent selected dissertation titles below.

Further information regarding courses and programs of study in Slavic Languages and Literatures may be obtained by writing to: Chair, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Barker Center 374, 12 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, or by viewing the Website at

Information on admission, tuition and registration policies, and grants may be obtained by writing 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. We encourage online submission of the application. See the GSAS Admissions website.

Selected Recent Dissertation Titles


  • Scarlet Marquette, "Ubi Cogito, Ibi Sum: Paranoid Epistemology in Russian Fiction, 1833-1907"
  • Maxim Pozdorovkin, "Khronika: Soviet Newsreel at the Dawn of the Information Age."
  • Maria Khotimsky, "‘A Remedy for Solitude’: Russian Poet-Translators in the Soviet and Post-Soviet Eras."
  • Aleksandr Senderovich, The Red Promised Land: Narratives of Jewish Mobility in Early Soviet Culture."
  • Rebecca Reich, "Thinking Differently: Psychiatry, Literature and Dissent in the Late Soviet Period."
  • Olga Voronina, "A Window with an Iron Curtain: Cold War Metaphors in Transition, 1945–1968."
  • Alex Spektor, "Narrative Ethics in the First-Person Prose of Fyodor Dostoevsky and Witold Gombrowicz."
  • Emily Van Buskirk, "Reality in Search of Literature: Lydia Ginzburg’s In-Between Prose."
  • Hakyung Jung, "The Grammar of Have in Have-Less Language: Possession, Perfect, and Ergativity in North Russia."
  • Ian Chesley, "Handwriting, Typography, Illustration: The Visual Word of the Russian Avant-Garde"
  • Inna Galperin, "Gogol’s Play with Multiple Addressees: Society Vaudeville and Satirical Comedy in The Inspector General"
  • Anna Gessen, "Four Strangers, Life on the Margins"
  • Benjamin Barnaby Paloff, "Intermediacy: A Poetics of Unfreedom in Interwar Russian, Polish, and Czech Literatures"
  • Jacob Emery. "Stock Exchanges: Heredity, Identity, and Metaphor in Modernist Slavic Literature Modernist Slavic Literature"
  • Séamas Stiofan O’Driscoll, "Invisible Forces: Capitalism and the Russian Literary Imagination (1855–1881)"
  • Julia Vaingurt, "Wonderlands of the Russian Avant-Garde: Technology and the Arts in the 1920s"
  • Alexandra Kirilcuk Lyons, "A Hermitage of Poets: Russian Emigre Poetry in Prague, 1922–1939"
  • Rachel Slayman Platonov, "Marginal Notes: ‘Avtorskaia Pesnia’ on the Boundaries of Culture and Genre"
  • Julia Bekman Chadaga, "The Language of Glass and the Transformation of Vision in Modern Russia"
  • Kylie R. Richardson, "The Case for Meaningful Case: The Interaction of Tense, Aspect, and Case in Russian"
  • Edyta Bojanowska, "Nikolai Gogol: Between Ukrainian and Russian Nationalism"
  • Griorgio DiMauro, "The Furnace, the Crown, and the Serpent: Images of Babylon in Muscovite Rus"
  • Justyna Beinek, "The Album in the Age of Russian and Polish Romanticism: Memory, Nation, Authorship"
  • Timothy C. Harte, "Russian Motion: Kinetic Dynamism and Speed in Russian Avant-Garde Poetry, Painting, and Film"


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