Study for higher degrees in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures is intended primarily 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 program emphasizes literature, literary history, and cultural studies.
The Director of Graduate Studies advises students throughout their studies and acts as primary advisor until the committee for a student’s general examinations is constituted. The chair of that committee and thereafter of the dissertation committee then becomes the student’s academic advisor, matching the student’s scholarly interest as closely as possible. The Director of Graduate Studies approves all course selections each semester.
Students choose the director and two readers of their dissertation in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies and the prospective director. The director and readers advise the student during the writing of the dissertation.
Students who wish to change their advisor or dissertation director may consult with the Director of Graduate Studies.
Master of Arts (AM)
The requirements for the AM degree are as follows:
- A minimum of two terms of full-time study, in residence. See the Registration section of GSAS policies.
- The satisfactory completion of an approved program of eight four-credit courses or the equivalent.
- Four of these courses must be in the group designated in Courses of Instruction as “primarily for graduates.”
- Two of the four-credit courses must be the Proseminar (an introduction to literary research and theory, often taught jointly with Romance Languages and Literatures), or the equivalent, and one graduate-level seminar taught by a German Department faculty member.
- Courses taken to fulfill language requirements are not included in the minimum requirement.
- The AM examination (see below).
No master’s thesis is required.
Permission to proceed to the PhD is granted on the basis of coursework, performance in the AM examination, and scholarly potential as judged by the department. A student denied permission to proceed ordinarily terminates graduate study with the AM degree.
The AM Examination
All graduate students, regardless of prior education, exams, and degrees, take the department’s AM examination in September of their second year in the program.
The AM examination consists of a four-hour written examination, in which the student demonstrates an ability to interpret literary texts and to place them in their historical contexts, and a one-hour oral examination one week later, which includes a brief presentation in German. The AM examination is based on a reading list that is available in the “Graduate Program” section of the department website.
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Academic Requirements
A minimum of four terms of full-time study, in residence. Credit for graduate work done elsewhere may be granted in accordance with procedures detailed in GSAS policies. See Registration for more information about residence requirements.
- The satisfactory completion of an approved program of eight four-credit courses beyond the AM degree.
- Students must take four courses per semester (courses in a required language, e.g. French, as well as Latin for medievalists, must generally be taken as a fifth course). A maximum of two courses in one other language, if essential to the student’s dissertation project, may count toward the requirement.
- There is a distribution requirement of one four-credit course, taught by a German Department faculty member, in each of the following fields: pre-18th-century, 18th-century, 19th-century, and 20th-21st-century German literary and cultural studies. If fulfilled with a course "for undergraduate and graduates," the course must be upgraded to meet graduate-level requirements.
- All graduate students are required to take the Proseminar (an introduction to literary research and theory).
- Not more than two four-credit courses from the group designated “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 to meet graduate-level requirements and completes the requisite form; all others must be “primarily for graduates.”
- With the permission of the Director of Graduate Studies, students may take, for credit toward the PhD course requirement, courses in other departments that relate directly to their program of study. Courses in German literary and cultural studies taught by faculty affiliated with the department are normally considered to be departmental courses.
- The maximum number of courses taken outside the department shall normally not exceed four, but that number decreases if credit is granted for work done elsewhere (see below), in which case the student shall, in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies, work out a reasonable distribution.
- Courses taken to make up for deficiencies in German are not included in the minimum requirement.
- The student must normally be a member of a 200-level course taught by a member of the German Department (or an affiliate) for at least three terms and earn a grade of A- or A in at least one of these courses.
- A grade record showing more A’s than B’s, and no grade lower than B-. A grade of Incomplete must be converted into a letter grade before the end of the next registration period or it will become permanent, unless the student has successfully petitioned the GSAS Dean’s Office for an extension.
- At the beginning of the second semester of the first year, students may petition for credit for graduate work done elsewhere. Credit for no more than the equivalent of six Harvard graduate courses may be granted (24 credit units). Criteria for department approval of the petition (preceding GSAS approval) are: (1) The courses are graduate-level courses completed by the writing of a seminar-length paper and with an honors grade (documentation must be presented to the Director of Graduate Studies). (2) The preponderance of courses is in the field of German literary and cultural studies and otherwise very closely related to the field.
Foreign Language Requirements
Graduate students normally must satisfy the requirement in French and, where applicable, in Latin before they can be admitted to the PhD general examinations.
Reading Proficiency in French
This requirement can be fulfilled by passing French 16 (Reading Modern 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, to be determined by the Director of Graduate Studies. In certain cases, another foreign language may be substituted for French, if it is essential to the student’s planned dissertation work. French 16, or any other language course taken to fulfill this requirement, does not count toward the 16 courses required for the PhD degree or the 8 courses required for the A.M. degree.
Reading Proficiency in Latin
Reading ability in Latin is required only of those students wishing to specialize (i.e., to write their dissertations) in the literature of the earlier periods (medieval, sixteenth century, the Baroque). This requirement may be fulfilled by a department examination. The texts to be translated 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 honors grade (B- or higher) in any course in Medieval Latin or in any intermediate course of readings of classical authors given by Harvard’s Department of the Classics. Any student failing the language examination must consult the Director of Graduate Studies to plan satisfactory remedial steps to remove the deficiency.
Students must 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 or an appropriate Nordic language at Harvard. Germanic Philology 280 (Foreign Language Pedagogy), a four-credit course divided over two semesters, must normally be taken to accompany the first year of language teaching. Germanic Philology 280 may be counted toward the required courses for the degree.
After completing course work and meeting the language requirement, students must present themselves for the general examinations. Students entering the graduate program with a Master’s degree from elsewhere and who receive at least 16 course credit units for work done elsewhere (see above, under PhD course requirements) proceed to the general examinations in October or November of their third year (to be determined by the Director of Graduate Studies in consultation with department faculty). Students not requesting or not receiving course credit of at least 16 units for work done elsewhere proceed to the general examinations in April of their third year.
The general examinations committee must be constituted and the reading lists, approved by the committee, must be submitted to all committee members and to the Director of Graduate Studies no later than six months before the examinations. Students should consult with the Director of Graduate Studies well in advance of this deadline.
The written examination consists of two four-hour sessions, taken a week apart from one another. The first normally covers 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 covers a literary genre or a special topic, defined by the student in consultation with the examination committee, from the Middle Ages to the present.
A two-hour oral examination follows within two weeks of the first written examination.
The general examinations are graded Pass or Fail.
The candidate should take the following steps:
- Constitute the dissertation committee in consultation with the expected dissertation director and the Director of Graduate Studies well in advance of completion of the dissertation prospectus.
- In consultation with the dissertation director and within three months of the general examinations, complete a dissertation prospectus of 2,500–3000 words (including notes), plus bibliography, for submission to the dissertation committee and then the department faculty (see below). Committee members meet or correspond (when the University is not in session) with the candidate to discuss the prospectus, after which the dissertation director makes a recommendation on acceptance to the full faculty of the department and conveys to the candidate the faculty’s decision and, should there be such, suggestions.
- Thereafter, on the assumption of a dissertation of five chapters of 40-50 pages each, plus introduction, conclusion, and bibliography, the candidate is required to complete one acceptable and largely polished chapter at least every six months and thus to submit the completed dissertation within a maximum of three years (less, if the dissertation is to be completed within the student's five years of guaranteed funding) of the approval of the dissertation prospectus. Adherence to this schedule is the condition for satisfactory progress, which determines eligibility for continuing in the program and for continued teaching and other financial support (through the fifth year, thereafter according to availability). Annual reviews of student progress by the full faculty of the department take place at the last department meeting of the academic year. Each summer, the Director of Graduate Studies reports to the GSAS on the satisfactory progress of each student.
- The completed dissertation must be released for submission to the dissertation committee by the dissertation director and submitted to the committee according to the schedule outlined in the “Dissertation Defense Guidelines” section below.
The dissertation is directed by a department faculty member, read and approved by the director and by two additional readers, one of whom must be a member of FAS, and defended publicly. A PDF copy of the completed and approved dissertation must be submitted to the Registrar’s Office electronically by the deadline set by GSAS.
Through consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies, the academic advisor, and, if appropriate, other advisors as well, PhD candidates are urged to begin developing their dissertation topic before the general examinations and to start work on the prospectus immediately upon passing the examinations. The dissertation subject normally falls within the area where the student’s chosen period and genre or special topic converge. The object of the dissertation is to show the candidate’s ability to pursue extended independent research and to present the results of this research in a readable and convincing form.
Candidates first devise a topic in rough outline and discuss it with one or more members of the faculty with the goals of developing the topic further and finding a director. At the same time, the second and third members of the dissertation committee should be selected, one of whom must be a member of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. When a member of the faculty has agreed to serve as director, and when it has then been established who the two other members of the committee are, the candidate informs the Director of Graduate Studies. In choosing a committee member from another department or, if necessary, from another university, approval by the dissertation director and the Director of Graduate Studies is required.
The prospectus outlines the topic of the dissertation, how that topic is to be addressed, and why it is important to address it. It is developed in consultation with the dissertation director and, to the extent the director or candidate finds it advisable, with one or both other readers. Once the director has approved the prospectus, it must also be approved by the second and third readers, after which it is submitted to the full faculty of the department for discussion and final acceptance. The prospectus must comprise at least 2,500 words and no more than 3,000 words and must, additionally, include both a bibliography of primary works and a bibliography of the secondary literature most pertinent to the dissertation project.
Once the prospectus is approved, the candidate and dissertation director design a writing schedule with the following goals: 1) that the project be completed within no more than three years and 2) that sections comprising approximately one-fifth of the anticipated whole be submitted at least every six months. Candidates must adhere to this timetable in order to maintain satisfactory progress.
Dissertation Defense Guidelines:
- Each student is required to defend his or her dissertation.
- The dissertation director releases the dissertation for defense according to the schedule below.
- Present at the defense are the student, the dissertation committee, and any interested faculty and graduate students from the department. Other faculty and students may attend at the invitation of the student or members of the committee, subject to approval by the director.
- Should it prove necessary, due to emergency circumstances, to conduct the defense via web-conferencing, any Department faculty and graduate students or members of the academic community invited by the director and the student must make known their intention to attend two days beforehand and must receive a password-protected web-conferencing invitation allowing them to attend. The dissertation director shall be the host of the meeting and engage all security measures available on the web-conferencing platform that guarantee the privacy of the virtual meeting. No dissertation defense shall be recorded.
- The defense lasts 90 minutes and begins with a 20-minute presentation by the student of the thesis, its genesis, and future plans for it.
- Questions will initially be posed by the dissertation committee. The dissertation director may choose to open discussion to attendees not on the dissertation committee.
- There are three possible outcomes:
- Simple approval of the dissertation and signing of the thesis acceptance certificate by the members of the dissertation committee.
- Conditional approval pending specified revisions to be approved by the dissertation director alone.
- Requirement to resubmit because of the need for some substantial revision; the revised thesis will be read and approved by the dissertation committee (no further defense is required).
- Students must ordinarily be physically present at Harvard for their defense.
- If the dissertation committee includes a member from another university, that member must normally be present at the defense. Students should consider this expectation when constituting their committee.
Dissertation Defense Schedule:
Depending on a student’s expected graduation date, the following submission schedules are necessary to account for reading time by the dissertation committee and for possible revisions. The department will adhere to them strictly.
- November degree: the dissertation director receives the completed thesis by the end of the third week of July, approves it for defense, and releases it to the other committee members for review, pre-defense suggestions for revision, and approval for defense by the end of the first week of August; if all is in order, the defense takes place in the first week of September; the dissertation must be submitted to GSAS before mid-September.
- March degree: the dissertation director receives the completed thesis by the end of the first week of November, approves it for defense, and releases it to the other committee members for review, pre-defense suggestions for revisions, and approval for defense by the end of the third week of November; if all is in order, the defense takes place in the third week of December; the dissertation must be submitted to GSAS in mid-January.
- May degree: the dissertation director receives the completed thesis by March 1, approves it for defense, and releases it to the other committee members for review, pre-defense suggestions for revision, and approval for defense by March 15; if all is in order, the defense takes place in the second week of April; the dissertation must be submitted to GSAS in mid-May.
- Consult the 2020-2021 degree calendar for exact submission dates.
Dissertation Submission and Accessibility:
In addition to submitting to ETDs @ Harvard the digital version of the accepted dissertation in order to be granted the PhD, graduating students are required to provide to the Department Administrator, by the dissertation submission deadline, a bound copy of the dissertation (of archival quality paper and binding) to be retained by the Department. According to GSAS policy, “students may request to delay the release of (‘embargo’) their work”; the parameters of an embargo are the purview of the departments. The Department advises against this practice, but shall, without question but only with the explicit written approval of the Department Chair, approve embargoes of up to two years. Should a student have compelling reasons for extending an embargo beyond that time frame, a formal application must be made to the Director of Graduate Studies, who shall decide whether the justification is sufficiently compelling to approve an embargo of longer duration. In no case may an embargo exceed six years in total.
For information on secondary PhD fields, please see the listing under Secondary Field.