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Middle Eastern Studies

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

For a complete statement of regulations regarding graduate work in Middle Eastern studies, candidates should refer to Degree Programs in Middle Eastern Studies.

Programs for the Joint PhD

A joint PhD is offered with the following departments: anthropology, history of art and architecture, and history. The fields covered differ according to the requirements of the respective Harvard departments.

Anthropology and Middle Eastern Studies

Students will fulfill all the requirements for the PhD in social anthropology. In addition, they will fulfill the following language and area requirements of the Committee on Middle Eastern Studies.

Language Requirements

Students are required to demonstrate competence in a European language other than English if it is essential for their dissertation research. Students from the region are required to show competence in a Middle Eastern language other than their own native language if that language is required for their research; all other students are required to show competence in one of the following: Arabic, Hebrew, Persian or Turkish (or another major regional language, with approval of their committee).

Course Requirements

In addition to the courses required for the PhD in social anthropology, the student will take at least three four-credit courses in Middle Eastern history, economics, religion, or political science. Other fields of study from related areas may be approved to meet this requirement by petition to the committee.

General Examination

The general examination in social anthropology is designed as a process that builds from the first year (G1) of graduate studies through the third year (G3). The stages of this process, with the required courses and activities relevant to each stage, are outlined on the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) website.


The dissertation will normally be based on fieldwork conducted in the Middle East or in other areas of the world with close cultural ties to the region. The dissertation should demonstrate the student’s ability to use source material in one or more relevant Middle Eastern languages.

History and Middle Eastern Studies

The student will fulfill the course requirements for the PhD in the Department of History. In addition, the student will also fulfill the language and area requirements of the Committee on Middle Eastern Studies. 

Fields of Study

As soon as possible after entering the program, and no later than the end of the first year, the student should select an advisor (who must be a member of the history department) in consultation with whom four fields of study will be chosen for presentation at the general examination. This selection of fields should be in written form and signed by the advisor. This plan will also state the student’s choice of courses and language examinations during the first two years. A student wishing to propose subsequent changes in this study plan must do so in the form of a written petition to the advisor.

Language Requirements

Each student must pass the Department of History’s language exam in one of the following: French, German, Russian, or Italian.

Students must also attain proficiency in a modern Middle Eastern language: Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, or Turkish. Depending upon the student’s specialization, another Middle Eastern or Islamic language (e.g., Kurdish, Urdu) may be substituted with the approval of the Committee on Middle Eastern Studies. Proficiency would normally translate into a minimum of four years of language study with a final grade of B- or above. Native speakers of these languages will be required to master a second Middle Eastern language. A written examination in the Middle Eastern language selected will be administered by the Committee on Middle Eastern Studies and must be taken within a year of passing the general examination (the “fourth field” general exam).

While not required to do so, students are strongly encouraged to master at least one additional Middle Eastern language. The expectation is that the student learn the languages necessary to teach and work in their chosen field.


Students usually take four courses each term during their first two years in the program. Eight of these courses must be taken for a letter grade. In the first term, each student must pass the introductory seminar on methodology, History 3900: Writing History, with a grade of satisfactory. Students must take at least two additional seminars for a letter grade; one in Middle Eastern history, and one in another area of world history.

Students prepare for the general exam by registering for a series of reading courses known as History 3010s. These are directed study courses that students take with each member of the general exam committee. History 3010 is, by default, graded as satisfactory or unsatisfactory and does not count toward the required eight courses. However, by completing a petition to take 3010 as a graded course and fulfilling some additional requirements such as writing a paper, students may simultaneously satisfy the letter-graded course requirements outlined above and prepare for the general exam. A graded 3010 may count as a research seminar, as a history department course, or as an elective, but it may not be used in place of History 3900.

General Examinations

The general examination covers four established fields of the Department of History and the Committee on Middle Eastern Studies. Two of the four fields must be in Middle Eastern history and one in another area of world history (e.g. African, American, East Asian, European, South Asian).The three established fields in Middle Eastern history are medieval Islamic history, Ottoman history, and modern Middle Eastern history. Students who wish to offer another Middle Eastern-related field (for example, Byzantine history) in place of one of the established Middle Eastern fields should petition the committee for permission. The Department of History’s chronological requirements for historical fields do not apply to the fields submitted for the joint program.

The fourth field is a written language comprehension examination of a major text in the student’s primary Middle Eastern language. It is a separate examination from that which covers the three historical fields.


The dissertation prospectus must be completed and approved within one year of passing the first three fields of the generals. It must be written in conformity with the Department of History guidelines, as detailed in the History Department Graduate Student Handbook.


The dissertation must be read and approved by a three-member dissertation committee, along with an outside reader. At least two committee members are expected to be members of the History Department or another CMES joint degree-granting department (Anthropology or HAA).

History of Art and Architecture and Middle Eastern Studies

The student will fulfill the requirements for the PhD in the History of Art and Architecture Department, with minor adjustments to be discussed with their advisor. In addition, the student will also fulfill the language and area requirements of the Committee on Middle Eastern Studies.


Each student must complete at least two years of residence and fulfill the following language requirements—to obtain proficiency in one of the following Middle Eastern languages: Arabic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish, or another appropriate language (such as Urdu). Depending on area of concentration, students may be required to study a second Middle Eastern language as well. Students must also acquire a reading knowledge in a European language (e.g., French, German, Italian, Spanish, or Russian). 

Course Requirements

In addition to the work in Islamicate art and architecture, the student must take at least one four-credit course and one seminar in some other period of art history, and at least one four-credit course and one seminar in some other aspect of Middle Eastern studies. Classes should be chosen in consultation with the student’s advisor in the Department of History of Art and Architecture.

General Examinations

The student will be expected to take their general examinations at the Department of History of Art and Architecture. The exams consist of two written examinations in a selected general and a specific field of Islamic art and architecture, and a third oral examination on “connoisseurship." The latter will require the identification of visual materials, inscriptions, and/or illustrated manuscript texts chosen by the examination committee. The committee should include two art historians from History of Art and Architecture and one faculty member from CMES.


The student should follow the requirements for the PhD in History of Art and Architecture Department.


PhD students in their third and fourth years have priority for teaching fellowship awards. Normally, PhD students find teaching fellowships in their joint department. Students are usually not permitted to teach until after they have passed the general examinations. Graduate students who are fluent in speaking, reading, and writing one of the modern Middle Eastern languages may be eligible to teach introductory and intermediate courses in that language.

First-time teaching fellows must participate in the Bok Center teaching orientations.


Advisors take an active role in helping plan the student’s program of study and in directing the student’s research and dissertation preparation.

At the beginning of their first year, students enrolled in the joint PhD programs (anthropology, history of art and architecture, history) must choose an advisor, by mutual consent, from among several Middle East faculty whose research interests are congruent with those of the student. The director of graduate studies at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies will have primary responsibility for monitoring the student’s progress toward completion of the PhD requirements.

The progress of all graduate students is reviewed at the end of each year.

Contact Info 

Middle Eastern Studies Website

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