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Celtic Languages and Literatures

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Questions about these requirements? See the contact info at the bottom of the page. 

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 medieval 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, or (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, Modern Welsh, or Breton). Procedures for fulfilling requirements in Early Irish, Middle Welsh, Latin, Modern Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Modern Welsh, Breton, 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. A student takes 4 courses per term in each of the first 2 years, for a total of 16. Twelve of these are courses in the Celtic Department, or courses closely allied to Celtic studies as approved by the Director of Graduate Studies.  Students who enter the program with a strong background in Celtic studies may take fewer than 12 of their courses in the Celtic Department with the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies. Students meet individually with the Director of Graduate Studies at the beginning of each term to review their course selections as well as language requirements and other aspects of progress toward the degree.

All students are required to take Celtic 340, the Celtic Languages and Literatures Proseminar, in the first or second year, depending on the year in which it is offered. The proseminar is offered every second year. Students are also required to take Celtic 350a and 350b, the two halves of the Teaching Colloquium, in the second year. The teaching colloquium does not count toward the eight courses for that year.

The First Year

In the first year, the student takes at least two 200-level courses in medieval Irish or Middle Welsh (Irish 200, 201, 204, 205; Welsh 225a, 225b, 226, 227). Students take at least six 200-level courses in medieval Irish and medieval Welsh during the first two years, and some take eight. Courses in medieval Irish and medieval Welsh are offered in a two-year cycle, with the introductory courses offered in one year and the more advanced courses the next. In any given year, the introductory courses in either medieval Irish or medieval 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 medieval Irish and/or medieval 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 four 200-level courses in the first year. The student may also take 100-level courses in Celtic. Graduate students who enroll in a 100-level Celtic course enroll in the graduate discussion section of that course, which is led by the instructor. The instructor will assign work appropriate to graduate-level study and will meet with the graduate student(s) for one additional hour per week for discussion of the reading.

For students entering the department with little or no knowledge of a modern Celtic language, 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, Breton, and German. These language requirements may be satisfied as follows:

  • For Latin, successful completion (with a grade of B- or better) of Latin 3, Latin Ax, Latin 2x, or Latin S-Aab.
  • For German, successful completion (with a grade of B- or better) of German Ax, German 10A and 10B, German 10AB, or German S-R.
  • (Courses offered in satisfaction of the reading language requirements are to be taken in addition to the normal four-course per term 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, Modern Welsh, and Breton, 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 medieval Irish or medieval Welsh. Students take Celtic 350a and 350b, the two halves of the Teaching Colloquium. 

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 term of the third year or through a departmental exam in the first month of the first term of that year.

In the spring term 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 term 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 medieval Irish and medieval 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 departmental Pedagogy Fellow, 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. In most cases, the members of the Celtic Department are 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 during the spring of the second year. The exam is to be taken during the first term 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 three or four areas, designed in consultation with the 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

Harvard Griffin GSAS and the department guarantee teaching in connection with the Harvard Griffin GSAS funding package during the third and fourth years. Fifth-year students (and beyond) may apply for Traveling Fellowships in order to pursue their dissertation research abroad, or for 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 Harvard Griffin 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

As soon as possible after the general exam, and no later than the end of the second week of classes in the term following the exam, the student asks any member of the department faculty to serve as the advisor of the dissertation, or asks two members of the department faculty to serve as co-advisors.   

Next, the student, in consultation with the advisor, invites two or three additional members to serve on the committee (for a total of three or four).  If the dissertation committee has co-chairs, only one additional member is necessary. The committee is to be in place no later than the end of the term following the term in which the general exam was taken, that is, in most cases, no later than the end of the spring term of the third year.   

The advisor must be a member of the Celtic Department faculty, as must a co-advisor, if any; at least one other member of the committee must be a member of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences but may be in a different department.  The committee must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies. 

The prospectus has four parts. 

  1. A clear statement, not only of the topic, but of what the dissertation will do with the topic. 
  2. A thorough and detailed review of the published scholarship on the topic, including an explanation of how the dissertation will take a different approach from, move beyond, and/or dispute each of the publications discussed.  
  3. A chapter-by-chapter outline of the dissertation as envisioned at the time of writing.   
  4. A bibliography of all relevant materials.  

A typical prospectus is 20–30 pages in length (double-spaced, 12 point font) plus the bibliography. 

The student submits the prospectus to the advisor(s) no later than the first week of the term following the term in which the committee is formed.  Normally, this will be the fall term of the fourth year.   

The advisor reviews the prospectus promptly, with the objective of approving a draft no later than the fifth week of the term.  The prospectus is then circulated to the other members of the committee.  Once all members of the committee have approved the prospectus, the prospectus defense is scheduled to take place no later than the end of the fall term of the fourth year.   

Once the prospectus has been approved, the student is required to produce at least one chapter in each subsequent academic year in order to remain in good standing.  Timely completion of the degree, ideally by the end of the sixth year, ordinarily requires completion of more than one chapter each year.


The student is encouraged to consult regularly with their advisor(s). At least once each year during the writing of the dissertation, the student must have a “chapter meeting” with their dissertation committee. All members of the committee must receive the final draft of the complete dissertation no 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 the student wishes to invite. The advisor introduces the student and their 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 eight four-credit courses in the department or in a related field approved by the Director of Graduate Studies. These courses must include at least three courses in either medieval Irish or medieval Welsh, and at least one course in the medieval form of the other language (i.e., at least three courses in medieval Irish and at least one in medieval Welsh, or three courses in medieval Welsh and at least one in medieval 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 eight courses in toto, however, remains.
  • Fulfillment of the Latin reading requirement and one other reading language requirement.

Contact Info

Celtic Languages and Literatures Website

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