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150 years of Inquiry, Innovation, and Impact

GSAS sesquicentennial celebrates the School’s influence on Harvard, academia, and the wider world

This academic year marks an extraordinary milestone for GSAS—the 150th anniversary of its founding.


Since it was first established as the Graduate Department in 1872, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, as it came to be known, has grown from 28 students to nearly 5,000. The School’s areas of study—which originally included only mathematics, history, and physics—now extend to 57 graduate programs spanning the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and engineering. 

The lifeblood of Harvard’s knowledge ecosystem, GSAS students are present at virtually every Harvard School. They make new connections as they study for a master’s degree or PhD, engage in joint programs with Harvard Law School or Harvard Medical School, and serve as graduate student fellows at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute.

From new knowledge that undergirds the creation of lifesaving vaccines to work that charts the expanding universe and brings peace to warring nations, GSAS alumni have quite literally changed the world. Their achievements have been recognized with Nobel Prizes, MacArthur “genius” Fellowships, Pulitzers, and many other awards and accolades.

When the Graduate Department was first proposed to the College Faculty in 1872, many opposed its creation on the grounds that it would harm the education of undergraduates by siphoning off much needed funding. Harvard President Charles Eliot disagreed. “It will strengthen the College,” he said, and indeed, graduate students have strengthened the University in multiple ways over 150 years: they are the lifeblood of Harvard’s knowledge ecosystem, generating novel ideas and advancing innovative research while connecting with undergraduates and faculty alike.

Throughout the 2022–2023 academic year, GSAS will celebrate the contributions of alumni and students during the last 150 years, highlighting through stories and events the spirit of inquiry, the passion for innovation, and the commitment to positive impact.

Follow the celebration and find out how to participate on the GSAS website. And be sure to share your own story on social media using the hashtag #HarvardGSAS150 or by emailing

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