A major strength of the graduate program in Germanic Languages and Literatures is its flexibility. While the main focus is on German literature and cultural studies, students often include comparative literature, art, philosophy, film studies, history, and history of science in their coursework and dissertation. Under the guidance of the director of graduate studies, students develop a plan of study that aims, on the one hand, for broad general knowledge of the field as a whole and, on the other, for special emphases of their own. Often, dissertation topics emerge from seminar papers; in addition, preparation for the PhD general exam is specifically geared toward developing expertise in a period and a genre.

We also offer older Germanic languages, notably Old Norse, as well as courses on specific aspects of the medieval period. A doctoral program in the older languages is available, which draws on resources in related disciplines such as English and medieval history.  

Teaching is required for the PhD degree, not only because sound training and practice are essential for a career in higher education, but also because it provides transferable skills in many other careers for which a PhD may be helpful. Graduate students normally begin teaching in their third year of study. New teachers take a course in foreign language pedagogy, and all graduate students involved in language teaching profit from the guidance of the language program coordinator. Opportunities are provided to teach elementary and intermediate language classes, where the graduate student is responsible for the entire weekly instruction of a class. Many of our graduate students assist in high-enrollment courses on literature, film, thought, and culture given by members of the department or professors in related departments; in such courses, the graduate student leads a weekly discussion group under the direction of the course head. Graduate students may also participate as teaching fellows in the undergraduate Program in General Education, again as leaders of small-group discussion sections that accompany lectures given by a professor. Our students have benefited not only from the teaching opportunities these courses offer, but also from General Education seminars, a special category of course in which they participate in developing the syllabus and materials for a General Education course and receive training in skills needed for teaching undergraduates who are not necessarily specializing in the field.

The department conducts regular professional development workshops designed to help graduate students prepare to apply for positions, polish their interviewing skills, practice giving a talk in connection with a job application, and create other materials useful in the job search.

We also have a regular workshop for dissertation writers and a colloquium where graduate students at all levels share their work. Every two years, our graduate students design and organize a conference on a topic of their choice; beyond developing organizational skills, this conference allows our students to engage with graduate students at other universities and to get to know more closely the distinguished scholar who gives the keynote speech. Our program has special connections with the Humboldt University in Berlin: every year, several students from the Humboldt come to do research here and participate in our dissertation-writers’ workshop; students from our own cohort may also choose to spend time studying at the Humboldt in Berlin. 

The rich resources that Harvard offers scholars in Germanic studies include Widener Library’s holdings, which many consider the best German studies research collection in North America; Houghton Library, with its collection of medieval manuscripts and the papers of such major German poets as Hofmannsthal, Rilke, Brecht, and Heine, as well as annotated typescripts of W. G. Sebald’s prose works; the map room in Pusey Library is a revelation; and the Harvard Film Archive, whose collection of 35- and 16-millimeter German films, videos, press booklets, and photographs is unique.

Admissions Requirements

All prospective students are required to submit with their online application a copy of a term paper or essay written dealing with a topic in German literature or a closely related field.

More information is available from the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures and the GSAS Student Handbook details program requirements.

Theses & Dissertations

Theses & Dissertations for Germanic Languages and Literatures

Germanic Languages and Literatures Faculty