Celtic Languages and Literatures

Students are admitted to the PhD program only. The AM degree may be conferred upon a student in the course of work toward the PhD, as described below. The typical time to degree for PhD candidates in Celtic is six years.

Language Requirements

PhD candidates in Celtic must fulfill course requirements in Early Irish and Middle Welsh.

Students must demonstrate oral/aural competence in at least one modern Celtic language. Students acquire competence in a modern Celtic language through any combination of (a) course work at Harvard (b) intensive summer study in a Celtic-speaking country (c) study prior to entering the program in the department. Achievement of an acceptable level of proficiency is assessed by the Director of Graduate Studies in consultation with the department’s Modern Language Teaching Supervisor. The department encourages students to organize informal conversation groups in order to help maintain and develop their Celtic language skills.

In addition, PhD candidates must demonstrate a reading knowledge of three languages: Latin; Modern Irish or Modern Welsh; and German or a second modern Celtic language (Modern Irish, Scottish Gaelic or Modern Welsh). Procedures for fulfilling requirements in Early Irish, Middle Welsh, Latin, Modern Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Modern Welsh and German are outlined below under “The First Two Years”.

The First Two Years

The first two years of the program are spent in coursework in Celtic and other departments. Normally, a student takes four courses per semester in each of the first two years, for a total of sixteen. Students meet individually with the Director of Graduate Studies at the beginning of each semester to review their course selections as well as language requirements and other aspects of progress toward the degree.

The First Year

In the first year, the student takes at least two 200-level courses in Early Irish or Middle Welsh. Students take at least six 200-level courses in Early Irish and Middle Welsh during the first two years, and some take eight. Courses in Early Irish and Middle Welsh are offered in a two-year cycle, with the introductory courses offered in one year and more advanced courses the next. In any given year, the introductory courses in either Early Irish or Middle Welsh will be offered, so that a student may have to postpone beginning study of one of the languages until the second year, depending upon prior training. Students with prior training in Early Irish and/or Middle Welsh may have the language course requirement adjusted in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies and the instructor of the course in question.

The student takes at least three 200-level courses in the first year. Apart from the Celtic language courses, these may include courses in the Celtic Department or in other departments. The student may also take 100-level courses in Celtic, in which the instructor will assign work appropriate to graduate level study. In most cases, first year course work will include at least two 100-level courses in a Modern Celtic language (see Language Requirements, above).

In the first year, the student is expected to demonstrate a reading knowledge of two of the following: Latin, Modern Irish, Modern Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, and German. These language requirements may be satisfied as follows:

  • For Latin, successful completion (with a grade of B- or better) of Latin Ax or of Latin 1x and 2x.
  • For German, successful completion (with a grade of B- or better) of German Ax, German 10A and 10B or German 10AB.
  • (Courses offered in satisfaction of the reading language requirements are to be taken in addition to the normal four course per semester program of course work.)
  • Either or both of these language requirements may also be satisfied by departmental exam. These are two-hour translation exams in which a dictionary may be used.
  • For Modern Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Modern Welsh, successful completion (with a grade of B or better) of a reading course in the language (e.g., Irish, Scottish Gaelic, or Welsh 300 devoted to readings in the modern language); or departmental exam (a two-hour translation exam in which a dictionary may be used).

The Second Year

Students continue with course work, including at least two 200-level courses in Early Irish or Middle Welsh, as well as other courses in Celtic and other fields.

The student must satisfy the remaining reading language requirement. Under extraordinary circumstances, and with the permission of the Director of Graduate Studies, one reading language requirement may be postponed until the third year if it is fulfilled through a course for which the student is registered in the first semester of the third year or through a departmental exam in the first month of the first semester of that year.

In the spring semester of the second year, students begin to plan for the General Exam.

Second year students assist third year students with the annual Harvard Celtic Colloquium, and in the spring semester begin to plan for the following year’s Colloquium.

The Third Year

Students often continue to do some course work in the third year, although this is not required unless the sequence of offerings in Early Irish and Middle Welsh makes it necessary to complete the six-course requirement in the third year. The General Exam and the dissertation prospectus are the principal work of the third year. Third year students are the organizers of the annual Harvard Celtic Colloquium, and editors of that year’s volume of the Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium. The third year is also the year in which students begin teaching. Students in the Celtic department teach discussion sections of undergraduate lecture courses in Celtic or other departments, or modern language courses in Celtic. Teaching Fellows are required to attend the Fall Teaching Conference at the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning as well as all scheduled meetings with the Course Head and or Head TF.

General Examination

The general examination is a two-hour oral examination in the general field of Celtic studies and in the student’s areas of particular interest within Celtic and, in some cases, an allied field. It is conducted by a committee of three members of the faculty and chaired by the student’s principal advisor. In most cases, the remaining members of the Celtic Department will be the other members of the committee; in some cases, it is appropriate to include one faculty member from another department on the committee. The student selects this committee in consultation with his or her advisor during the spring of the second year. The exam is to be taken during the first semester of the third year, and is scheduled by the student with the committee and the assistance of the department administrator. Any Incomplete grades in required courses must be made up before the student takes the General Examination, and the reading language requirements must be satisfied. The exam is structured by reading lists of primary and secondary sources in four or five areas, designed in consultation with the advisor and other members of the committee.

A student who fails to pass the General Exam or any section of it may take the exam a second time. A student who does not pass on the second attempt, or who for any reason fails to pass the exam by the end of the fourth year, is required to withdraw from the program.

The Fourth Year and Beyond

GSAS and the department guarantee teaching in connection with the GSAS funding package during the third and fourth years. Fifth year students (and beyond) may apply for GSAS Traveling Fellowships in order to pursue their dissertation research abroad, or for GSAS Merit Fellowships if remaining in Cambridge. Students are encouraged to seek out external funding resources as well.  Students demonstrate qualification for the Dissertation Completion Fellowship by meeting GSAS and departmental deadlines, normally in January of the preceding academic year, for submission to the advisor and one other member of the dissertation committee of two chapters of the dissertation in satisfactory draft form. 

Dissertation Prospectus and Committee

Not later than the end of the term following successful completion of the examination (i.e., by the end of the third year), the student must identify a dissertation advisor and submit a prospectus of the proposed dissertation for the advisor’s approval. The prospectus, typically about ten pages in length (excepting the bibliography), should include a clear statement of the original work that the student intends to do on the chosen topic, a review of the relevant published literature to date, and a tentative outline of chapters. A bibliography of the topic should be appended to the prospectus. It is expected that the dissertation will be an original and substantial work of scholarship or literary criticism. The department accepts dissertations dealing with any of the Celtic language traditions, singly or in combination with other Celtic or non-Celtic traditions. The department also welcomes any of a broad range of disciplinary and theoretical approaches to a topic.

Not later than the end of the semester following approval of the prospectus, the student, in consultation with the advisor, invites two other readers to serve on the dissertation committee. At least one of these must be a member of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The committee must be approved by the department’s Director of Graduate Studies.


The student and advisor should plan a tentative timetable for drafting and revising the dissertation, including regularly scheduled meetings. The student arranges with the other readers whether they wish to read and comment on individual chapters as they are drafted, or to review the dissertation as a whole in draft form. All members of the committee must receive the final draft of the complete dissertation not later than August 1 for a November degree, December 1 for a March degree, and April 1 for a May degree.

Dissertation Presentation and Defense

Upon completion of the dissertation, the student defends it before an audience comprising members of the committee and invitees. The latter include faculty, students, and associates of the department as well as any faculty, family and friends whom the student wishes to invite.  The advisor introduces the student and his or her work. The student then makes a 20-25-minute presentation, which is followed by questions from the committee and any members of the audience who wish to ask questions. The defense lasts no longer than 90 minutes, and at its successful conclusion the members of the committee sign the Dissertation Acceptance Certificate. The department administrator schedules the defense in consultation with the PhD candidate and the members of the committee.

Master of Arts (AM)

For students working toward the PhD in Celtic Languages and Literatures, the requirements for the AM degree are as follows:

  • Successful completion (with a grade of B or better) of 8 four-credit courses in the department or in a related field approved by the student’s advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies. These courses must include at least three courses in either Early Irish or Middle Welsh, and at least one course in the earlier form of the other language (i.e., at least three courses in Early Irish and at least one in Middle Welsh, or three courses in Middle Welsh and at least one in Early Irish), and one course in a Modern Celtic language. Depending on prior or alternative training in these languages, the specific course requirements may be adjusted by the Director of Graduate Studies; the requirement of 8 courses in toto, however, remains.
  • Fulfillment of the Latin reading requirement and one other reading language requirement.