Slavic Languages and Literatures

Professor Joanna Niżyńska, Director of Undergraduate Studies

The concentration in Slavic Literatures and Cultures offers you the opportunity to study the great works and cultural traditions, past and present, of Russia and the other Slavic countries, especially Ukraine, Poland, and the Czech Republic.  These countries share a rich cultural life as well as a turbulent and fascinating history.  In the Slavic concentration, you will develop proficiency in Russian or another Slavic language such as Czech, Polish, or Ukrainian, and you will use your knowledge of the language to better understand these cultures and the important role they have played in the modern world. The concentration requirements are five half-courses in Russian or another Slavic language, three half-courses of tutorial, one survey course, two electives, and a senior project in the final year. (Native speakers and students with advanced language preparation may substitute additional literature courses for a substantial part of the language requirement.) Study abroad, whether a summer or a semester, is strongly encouraged and easily accommodated within the concentration.

Your Slavic tutorials will give you a rigorous introduction to contemporary methodologies of reading texts and studying foreign cultures. All tutorials in the Slavic department are taught exclusively by full-time faculty. The sophomore tutorial (spring term only) will introduce students to major issues in the field of Slavic studies, including critical theory, modes of interpreting literary texts as well as visual culture, and the forces structuring national and regional identities. The junior tutorial is a full-year course. The first term introduces students to canonical texts of Slavic literature. The second term is devoted to a single topic and provides concentrators with an intensive reading experience – for example, reading Crime and Punishment in Russian. Many of our concentrators combine a love of literature with a strong interest in other disciplines, and we highlight the interdisciplinary nature of Slavic studies by incorporating questions of history, social structure, political theory, and cultural practice in our tutorials and other department courses. In the senior year, non-honors concentrators will design a fall-term capstone project in consultation with the director of undergraduate studies (DUS), allowing them to study with a faculty member from the department and write a 25–30 page senior project. Honors candidates will work with a faculty member for the entire senior year and write a thesis. The department awards prizes for superior honors theses.

In addition to the required survey course in Russian literature, students are encouraged to use their two elective courses to explore a broad variety of subjects offered by the department, including Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Nabokov, the avant-garde, the culture of St. Petersburg, the literature and culture of Prague, Romanticism and Polish literature, twentieth-century Ukrainian literature, the culture of Medieval Rus’, Russian women readers and writers, the Russian theater, Central and East European film, post-realist and postmodernist fiction, and Slavic science fiction. Many of these courses cover aspects of Slavic critical theory (formalism, structuralism, Bakhtin, cultural semiotics), as well as other contemporary theoretical approaches to literature.

Study abroad, though not required, is strongly encouraged by the department, and the majority of our concentrators spend time abroad, typically during their junior year or in the summer after junior year. Slavic department faculty currently run two summer abroad programs each year, one in St. Petersburg and the other in Prague. Many of our students also study in Russia or Central Europe with other programs such as the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) or the American Council of Teachers of Russian (ACTR); entrance to these programs is competitive, but Harvard students have traditionally done well. Credit toward concentration requirements is granted to those who successfully complete such programs; in order to receive concentration credit for this or any other external study, the student must receive permission in advance from the DUS.

The department welcomes all students with an interest in Slavic languages and cultures, and is happy to accept late transfers so long as the applicants have already begun language study. Although the undergraduate concentration will prepare you for graduate study in Slavic, comparative literature, history, and other programs, many of our students follow careers in other areas, including medicine, law, business, and government; they find that the experience of learning a language and getting to know a foreign culture greatly expands their opportunities for work and travel. Above all, the concentration seeks to provide intellectual stimulation along with linguistic and analytic skills that will serve students well in their future careers.


Slavic Literatures and Cultures
Basic Requirements: 12 half-courses

  1. Required Courses:

    1. Five half-courses in Russian language (including the first term), or five half-courses in another Slavic language (Ukrainian, Polish, Czech, or Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian; all five must be taken in the same language). Native speakers, or students with advanced language preparation, must still take at least one language course in the department, and have the option of testing out of the other four courses, which they would take in literature instead.

    2. Three half-courses of tutorial (see item 2).

    3. One of the following survey courses: Slavic 145a, Slavic 145b, Literature and Arts C-28, Literature and Arts C-30, Literature and Arts C-50, Literature and Arts C-51, Foreign Cultures 72.

    4. Two additional half-courses from the Slavic department or in related areas.

  2. Tutorials:

    1. Sophomore year: Slavic 97 (one term, spring semester) required. Letter-graded.

    2. Junior year: Slavic 98 (full year) required. Letter-graded.

  3. Capstone Project: The non-honors capstone project (Slavic 99a) will be a 25–30-page research paper or annotated translation, developed in consultation with the DUS and written under the guidance of a faculty advisor.

  4. Other information:

    1. Elective courses may include any Slavic department literature or linguistics course at the 125 level or above; Foreign Cultures 72, 92; Literature and Arts A-45, A-60, C-28, C-30, C-50, C-51; Comparative Literature 160, 168, 169, 256, 260, 261, 262, 275; Literature 102, 128, 138, 140, 160, 164, 166, 178, 184; Linguistics 250, 252; or a relevant Freshman Seminar.

    2. Other relevant courses and independent study arrangements may be counted toward the concentration if approved by the director of undergraduate studies. Relevant history and government courses, such as History 1260, 1266, 1270, 1280, 1285, or 1290 and Government 1243, may be used as a concentrator’s two electives.

    3. All courses for the concentration must be letter-graded, except approved Freshman Seminars and Slavic 99a, which are graded SAT/UNS.

Slavic Literatures and Cultures
Requirements for Honors Eligibility: 13 half-courses

  1. Required Courses: Same as Basic Requirements.

  2. Tutorials: Same as Basic Requirements.

  3. Thesis: Two terms (Slavic 99a and 99b) required. Graded SAT/UNS.

  4. Other Information: Same as Basic Requirements.


The director of undergraduate studies is responsible for advising the concentrators in all three years. Concentrators meet with the director individually at the beginning of each term to discuss their Plans of Study and their progress through the concentration, and thereafter as desired.

For up-to-date information on advising in Slavic Languages and Literatures, please see the Advising Programs Office website.


Consult Professor Joanna Niżyńska, director of undergraduate studies, Barker Center 322, 617-495-5808,


Non-exempt areas:

Exempt areas:

†Historical Study A

Foreign Cultures

†Historical Study B

Literature and Arts A

†Literature and Arts B

Literature and Arts C

Moral Reasoning

ONE of the areas marked †.

Quantitative Reasoning


Science A


Science B


Social Analysis


For more information on fulfilling the Core requirement, see the Core Curriculum Requirement.

All students—regardless of concentration—planning to graduate under the requirements of the Program in General Education must complete one letter-graded course in each of the eight categories in General Education. The Class of 2013 is the first to enter the College under these requirements. Students who entered Harvard College in September 2008 or earlier are expected to fulfill the requirements of the Core Curriculum, but will be permitted to switch to the Program in General Education if such a change is possible and advisable given their overall schedule and plan of study. For more information on the requirements of the Program in General Education and the possibility of switching to it, please see The Program in General Education in Chapter 2 and the General Education website.


Number of Concentrators as of December







Slavic Languages & Literatures






Slavic Languages & Literatures + another field






Another field + Slavic Languages & Literatures