Inner Asian and Altaic Studies

Program of Study

A minimum of two years academic residence is required in the Inner Asian and Altaic Study Program.  A graduate student is expected to complete a minimum of sixteen four-credit courses; however, in some cases the fulfillment of all requirements for the degree will involve at least one additional year of coursework. Courses should be chosen in consultation with student’s academic advisor. 

Language Requirement

Upon enrolling in graduate school the candidate should offer proof of competence in at least one foreign “tool” language (this will normally be done by way of examination in the first semester of study). During the first two years of residence, he or she should also demonstrate competence by way of examination in a second “tool” language, selected from among those especially pertinent to the student’s topic of specialization. “Tool” languages, such as French, German, Italian, Russian, Japanese, etc., are to be distinguished from “source” languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Manchu, Mongolian, Persian, Tibetan, Turkic, and Sanskrit. In particular cases, where one of the latter is not a “source” language it may be considered a “tool” language. Students are expected to be competent in the language(s) of their primary focus, and will be required to take written examinations in their “source” language or languages, both with and without the aid of a dictionary.

Incomplete Grades

A grade of Incomplete (INC) 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. No course with a grade of Incomplete can be used to satisfy any departmental requirement.  IAAS students must not have more than two grades of incomplete.


On entering the IAAS program, students are assigned an academic advisor from among the members of the IAAS Committee, with whom they should meet to design an appropriate program of study. Students should also consult with the committee chair to discuss their study plan. Students must meet with the program administrator every semester in residence. The faculty advisor, chair, and program administrator should be consulted in making arrangements for the general examination, and an appropriate advisor or advisors will also be assigned for the PhD dissertation. Students may petition the committee for changes in the advisor assignment, where appropriate. Advising is a critically important aspect of the IAAS program, and the committee is committed to finding appropriate advising arrangements for all students.

General Examinations

Normally by the end of the third year of residence, the candidate will have a general examination in three fields approved in advance by the committee. One of these fields should cover the history or culture of a major society outside of Inner Asia (e.g., Western Europe, Russia, Islamic Middle East, East Asia, South Asia, or the Americas). The other two may be focused on:

Pre-Islamic History of Inner Asia

Medieval and Early Modern History of Inner Asia

Modern History of Inner Asia

Philology and Religion of Pre-Islamic Inner Asia

Philology and Religion of Medieval and Early Modern Inner Asia

Altaic or Tungusic Linguistics

Archaeology and Art of Inner Asia

Ethnology and Anthropology of Inner Asia

There will be a 3-hour examination in each of the three specified fields.  In some cases, students may with the approval of the committee choose to take an additional fourth general examination field.

Dissertation Prospectus

Within one academic year of completing their general examination, students will be required to present a written prospectus of their dissertation of at least 20 pages in length plus a bibliography for approval by the committee.


The doctoral dissertation must demonstrate the candidate’s ability to use primary source material and to produce a piece of original research. After the acceptance of the dissertation, the candidate must defend his or her dissertation in a special oral examination that is open to the public. The final manuscript must conform to the requirements described online in The Form of the PhD Dissertation.



IAAS, Harvard University
1730 Cambridge Street, Suite 105
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138