Skip to main content

Inner Asian and Altaic Studies

Last Updated

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

Program of Study

A minimum of two years of academic residence is required in the Inner Asian and Altaic Studies (IAAS) program. A graduate student is expected to complete a minimum of 16 4-credit courses; however, in some cases, the fulfillment of all requirements for the degree will require additional coursework. Courses are chosen in consultation with the student’s academic advisor.  


Upon admission into the program, students are assigned an advisor appropriate to their proposed field of study whom they will consult on their academic plan and who will approve their courses for registration. They will also consult with the director of graduate studies regularly. Students may change advisors in consultation with the program. 

Language Requirement

The study of languages is integral to success in the IAAS program; secondary modern scholarship languages are to be distinguished from primary research languages. In addition to building on previous language skills, the student should demonstrate proficiency in a second primary research language pertinent to the student’s topic of specialization. Depending on their area of focus, a student may need to learn additional languages. Proficiency in a language is determined by completing courses to the third-year level at Harvard or by taking placement exams in the relevant departments. Language preparation should be completed prior to taking the general exam.

Incomplete Grade

A grade of Incomplete (INC) in a course must be converted into a letter grade before the end of the next registration period. IAAS students may not have more than two grades of Incomplete on their record. Students with more than two grades of incomplete may be considered making unsatisfactory academic progress and risk being placed on grace status.

General Examinations

Once the student has shown competence in the primary and secondary languages used for their research, they will form a general exam committee with three faculty members covering a minimum of three fields. The student will prepare a brief description of each of the three fields in consultation with their advisor. The brief descriptions will be used by members of the committee to formulate questions. It is expected that the fields generally fall within the following categories:

  1. Pre-Islamic history of Inner Asia
  2.  Medieval and early modern history of Inner Asia
  3.  Modern history of Inner Asia
  4.  Philology and religion of pre-Islamic Inner Asia
  5. Philology and religion of medieval and early modern Inner Asia
  6. Altaic or Tungusic linguistics
  7. Archaeology and art of Inner Asia
  8. Ethnology and anthropology of Inner Asia

A two-hour written examination in each of the three fields is required with a paper and pen, or on a 'clean' computer; these can be done on three consecutive days. Phones and personal computers cannot be used during the examination and must be left outside the examination room. The student must then pass a two-hour oral examination in these three fields and is expected to complete the general examination by the end of the third year but no later than the beginning of their fourth year. 

Dissertation Prospectus

Within one academic year after completing their general examination, students will present a written prospectus of their dissertation that includes the relevant work in the field and how this dissertation will contribute to the field. The prospectus must be at least 15 to 20 pages (double spaced) plus an annotated bibliography. The chair will submit written approval of the prospectus to the IAAS office along with a copy of the prospectus.

The dissertation committee should consist of at least three faculty members, and the committee chair must be a Harvard faculty member. The committee may include one non-Harvard faculty member. 


The doctoral dissertation must demonstrate the candidate’s ability to use primary source material and to produce a piece of original research. It is expected that students will regularly submit chapters of their dissertation to the dissertation committee for comments and guidance.  

The complete dissertation must be submitted to the committee a minimum of six weeks before a possible defense date, with the public defense taking place no later than the second week of April. The IAAS chair must be informed of the acceptance of the dissertation by the dissertation committee, after which the candidate must defend the dissertation in a public oral examination arranged by the student in conjunction with the IAAS program administrator.

The manuscript must conform to the requirements described in Dissertations: A Guide to Preparing and Submitting your Dissertation. Submission of the dissertation to the Harvard Kenneth C. Griffin Graduate School of Arts and Sciences by the deadline is required. A bound copy of the dissertation must be given to the Committee on Inner Asian and Altaic Studies as part of the IAAS requirements for graduation.

Contact Info

Inner Asian and Altaic Studies Website

Committee on Inner Asian and Altaic Studies

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

Let us know your thoughts

Was This Helpful?

I found what I was looking for.
I couldn't find what I needed.
Events Calendar