Germanic Languages and Literatures

Study for higher degrees in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures is intended primarily as preparation for a career in teaching and research (although graduates occasionally go on to careers in other areas of education, in public service, and in the business world; see “Careers” in the Graduate Program section of the department website). The program emphasizes literature, literary history, and cultural studies, rather than the language itself.

Advising

The department assigns each incoming graduate student a faculty advisor, matching the student’s scholarly interest. Both the advisor and the director of graduate studies counsel and assist students prior to the dissertation. When students start working on their dissertations, the dissertation director becomes the principal advisor. The director of graduate studies approves and signs all Study Cards.

Students choose the director and two readers of their dissertations in consultation with the director of graduate studies and the prospective director. They advise the student during the writing of the dissertation.

Students who wish to change their advisor or dissertation director may consult with the director of graduate studies or the chair of the department.

Master of Arts (AM)

All students, except those admitted with the AM degree from another university, take the master’s examination at the start of their third term. Permission to proceed to the PhD is granted on the basis of coursework, performance in the AM examination, and scholarly potential as judged by the department. A student denied permission to proceed ordinarily terminates graduate study with the AM degree.

The requirements for the AM degree are as follows:

  • A minimum of two terms of full-time study. For financial residence requirements, see the GSAS Guide to Admission and Financial Aid or this handbook.
  • The satisfactory completion of an approved program of eight four-credit courses or the equivalent. Four of these courses must be in the group designated in Courses of Instruction as “Primarily for Graduates.” Two of the four-credit courses must consist of German 226r, the Proseminar (an introduction to literary research and theory), or the equivalent, and a seminar. One four-credit course must be wholly or partly philological or linguistic in character, normally Germanic Philology 200 (Middle High German) or Germanic Philology 225 (History of the German Language). Students may substitute Linguistics 168 (Introduction to Germanic Linguistics) or Linguistics 247 (Topics in Germanic Linguistics) for German 225. Linguistics 200 (Second Language Acquisition: Theory and Methodology) and courses taken to fulfill language requirements other than Middle High German or to make up for deficiencies are not included in the minimum requirement.
  • A four-hour written examination, administered at the beginning of the student’s third term, in which the student demonstrates an ability to interpret literary texts and to place them in their historical contexts, and a one-hour oral examination one week later, which includes a brief presentation in German, are required. The AM examination is based on a departmental reading list. No master’s thesis is required.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Academic Requirements

A minimum of four terms of full-time study. Credit for graduate work done elsewhere may be granted in accordance with procedures detailed in this handbook. For financial residence requirements, see the GSAS Guide to Admission and Financial Aid or this handbook.

Course Requirements

  • The satisfactory completion of an approved program of eight four-credit courses beyond the AM degree. Students must take four courses per semester (courses in an elementary language, e.g. French, must generally be taken as a fifth course). There is a distribution requirement of one four-credit course each in pre-18th century, 18th-century, 19th-century, and 20th-21st-century German literary and cultural history. No more than 6 semesters courses of credit for work done elsewhere will be granted. All graduate students are required to take German 226r, or the equivalent. PhD students must also take at least two four-credit courses in philology or linguistics, normally Germanic Philology 200 (Middle High German) and Germanic Philology 225 (History of the German Language). Students may substitute Linguistics 168 (Introduction to Germanic Linguistics) or Linguistics 247 (Topics in Germanic Linguistics) for German 225. Not more than two four-credit courses from the group “For Undergraduates and Graduates” may be counted, including courses taken for the AM degree, unless the student arranges with the instructor to upgrade the course and completes the requisite form; all others must be “Primarily for Graduates.” With the permission of the director of graduate studies, students may take courses in other departments that relate to their program of study. The maximum number of courses taken outside the department shall normally not exceed the number of courses required to complete a Secondary PhD Field in a related discipline.
  • Linguistics 200 (Second Language Acquisition: Theory and Methodology) and courses taken to fulfill language requirements or to make up for deficiencies are not included in the minimum requirement.
  • The student must generally be a member of a seminar taught by a member of the German Department for at least three terms and earn a grade of A- in at least one of the seminars.
  • A grade record showing more A’s than B’s, and no grade lower than B-. A grade of Incomplete must be converted into a letter grade before the end of the next registration period or it will become permanent, unless the student has successfully petitioned the GSAS Dean’s Office for an extension.

Foreign Language Requirements

Graduate students normally must satisfy the requirement in French and, where applicable, in Latin before they can be admitted to the PhD general examination.

Reading Proficiency in French

This requirement can be fulfilled by passing French Ax (Reading French), offered by Harvard’s Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, with a grade of A or A-, or through some other demonstration of sufficient proficiency, such as previous university-level course work.

Reading Proficiency in Latin

Reading ability in Latin is required only of those students wishing to specialize (i.e., to write their dissertations) in philology (historical linguistics) or in the literature of the earlier periods (medieval, sixteenth century, the Baroque). This requirement may be fulfilled by a department examination. The texts to be translated or summarized will be taken from Latin works of literary merit written by German authors, mainly during the medieval period. The requirement may also be fulfilled by an honor grade (B- or higher) in any course in Medieval Latin or in any intermediate course of readings of classical authors given by Harvard’s Department of the Classics. Any student failing the language examination must consult the director of graduate studies in order to plan satisfactory remedial steps to remove the deficiency.

Teaching

Students are required to acquire experience teaching the German language or, in keeping with the student’s program of study, another Germanic or Nordic language. The expectation is that the student will teach, at the very least, one full year of Beginning German at Harvard.

General Examinations

After completing course work and meeting the language requirement, students must present themselves for the general examination. Students entering the program with an AM degree or equivalent from another university present themselves for the examination at the beginning of their fourth semester; students taking the AM degree at Harvard present themselves for the examination at the beginning of their sixth semester. Approved reading lists must be submitted four months before the examination.

The written examination consists of two four-hour sessions, a week apart. The first covers any one of the following periods: (i) medieval literature, (ii) 1500–1750, (iii) 1750–1830, (iv) 1830–1910, (v) 1890–1945, (vi) 1945–present. The students will be responsible both for the principal literary texts in their chosen period and for the pertinent scholarship. The second examination will cover any one of the following fields: (i) lyric poetry, (ii) drama, (iii) narrative fiction, (iv) a special topic defined by the student in consultation with the examination committee, (v) Germanic philology (linguistics).

A two-hour oral examination follows within two weeks.

For more specific information regarding the general examinations, see the department’s “General Examination Schedule and Guidelines.”

Dissertation

After consultation with the advisor, a dissertation prospectus submitted for approval three months following completion of the general examination. PhD candidates are urged to think about a dissertation topic before their general examination and to start work on the dissertation soon after passing the examination. The dissertation subject normally falls within the area where the student’s special period and special field converge. The object of the dissertation is to show the candidate’s ability to pursue independent research and to present the results of this research in a readable and convincing form.

Candidates first devise a topic in rough outline and discuss it with one or more members of the faculty with the goals of developing the topic further and finding a director. When a member of the faculty has agreed to serve as a director, the candidate informs the director of graduate studies; he or she also lists two other faculty members as second and third readers, one of whom must be a member of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

The prospectus (1,500 to 3,000 words plus bibliography) explains its intellectual motivation and scholarly aims and outlines in detail the progression of the argument through its chapters. The committee (the dissertation director and two other members of the faculty) meets with the candidate to discuss the prospectus, after which it makes a recommendation on acceptance to the full faculty of the department.

Once the prospectus is approved, the candidate and dissertation director design a writing schedule with the following goals: 1) that the project be completed within three years, and 2) that sections comprising approximately one-fifth of the anticipated whole be submitted every six months. Candidates must adhere to this timetable in order to remain in good standing.

A dissertation directed by a department faculty member, and read and approved by the director and by two additional readers, one of whom must be a member of FAS. Two copies of the completed and approved dissertation must be submitted to the registrar by the deadline set by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

A dissertation defense scheduled and conducted as set forth in the departmental guidelines approved on September 12, 2009 (available from the DGS).

For information on a secondary PhD fields, please see the listing under Secondary Field at the end of Chapter VI.