The Department of Celtic Languages and Literatures at Harvard is the only one of its kind in North America. The department offers training in the languages and traditions of several Celtic languages, and our PhD program requires that students master at least two Celtic languages—Irish and Welsh—in their early (medieval) forms and at least one in its modern form. The program aims to provide PhD candidates with a broad knowledge of the field of Celtic studies, its history, theory, and many diverse branches. We encourage our students to situate their study of Celtic literatures and oral traditions in the context of the history and material culture of the Celtic-speaking lands. The department is committed to interdisciplinary study and encourages PhD students to do coursework outside the department. Many of our students complete Secondary Fields in other departments or programs, such as Medieval Studies or Comparative Literature. The typical time to completion of the PhD in our department is six years.
Our department is small and shares a strong sense of intellectual community. Students work closely with faculty and with one another, not only in courses but in independent Reading and Research modules, advising meetings, informal reading and conversation groups, and the GSAS Celtic Studies Research and Conference Workshop. The annual Harvard Celtic Colloquium, organized by the third-year PhD students with the assistance of the second-year students and the department administrator and faculty, is a three-day international conference that brings scholars from all over the world to discuss their research in many different branches of Celtic studies. Our program is also enriched by the contribution of speakers in the Mahindra Humanities Center Seminar on Celtic Literatures and Culture.
The admissions committee assesses every application to the PhD program in Celtic individually and holistically. Students come into the program from different academic backgrounds, including English, History, and Classics, as well as Celtic or Medieval Studies. Some have earned Masters’ degrees prior to joining the program, and others come directly from their undergraduate studies. In addition to the requirements set by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, prospective applicants should take note of the following:
Every application should include a 15—20-page sample of your academic writing. If you have not done formal work in Celtic studies, the writing sample should draw on your work in any field of literary or historical study. Should you wish to submit a writing sample in Irish, Welsh, or Scottish Gaelic, please include a sample of writing in English as well.
The program requires students to demonstrate the ability to conduct research in Early Irish and Middle Welsh sources, and to achieve reading, speaking and writing competence in Modern Irish, Scottish Gaelic or Welsh. In addition, PhD candidates are required to demonstrate a reading knowledge of Latin, French and German. Because of these fairly extensive language requirements, an applicant with a background in one or more of the requisite languages will have an advantage over the applicant with none.
Statement of Purpose
It is not necessary to identify a precise area of specialization at the time of application, and we certainly do not expect incoming students to have defined their dissertation research topic at that point, but it will be helpful for us to have an idea of the questions and interests that you foresee as being fundamental to your graduate work. Your statement of purpose should also describe your background in Celtic studies, the source of your interest in the field, and your sense of how our department is a suitable environment for pursuing your intellectual and professional goals.