Social Studies

Dr. Anya Bernstein, Director of Studies

Social Studies is a unique program of study at Harvard College. Originating in 1960 through the efforts of a small and distinguished group of faculty, it reflects the belief that the study of the social world requires an integration of the disciplines of history and political science, sociology and economics, anthropology and philosophy. Concerned with the fragmentation caused by increasing disciplinary specialization, the faculty and students of Social Studies seek an integrated approach to the study of social phenomena that synthesizes the findings as well as the methods of various modes of social inquiry.

Accordingly, the common introduction to the concentration in Social Studies 10 is to read closely and at length some of the thinkers who have durably shaped the way we understand society, addressing the questions of how it holds together, the obligations it imposes, the possibilities for liberty and economic development it both nurtures and constrains. Students in Social Studies 10 study foundational texts by Adam Smith, Mill, Tocqueville, Marx, Weber, Durkheim, and Freud; they conclude with consideration of the problematic issues posed in contemporary society by theorists of gender, language, and knowledge. Throughout Social Studies 10 the objective is to teach students to read theoretical arguments carefully and critically and to juxtapose them against historical developments and social experience.

The purpose of the junior tutorials in Social Studies is to immerse students in a detailed and focused study of an empirical, theoretical, or historical topic in the social sciences. Junior tutorials also teach social science methodology, providing students with instruction on research techniques and offering them experience in conducting primary research in preparation for their senior theses.

Students develop an individualized focus field in consultation with their academic adviser. They identify an area of interest (for example, inequality, development, or modern social theory) and create a plan of study. A Social Studies plan of study includes a minimum of four half-courses, normally drawn from at least two social science departments and including at least one course on a historical topic.  Students may petition to take social science courses taught in non-social science departments, or courses offered at Harvard’s professional schools. A student who is studying inequality might take two courses in government, one course in sociology, one in economics, and one in history. A student who is studying development might take two courses in economics, one in anthropology, and one in history. A student of social theory might take one course in philosophy, one course in history, two courses in the government department (including one on the history of political thought), and one course at the Law School.

In the senior year, all Social Studies concentrators enroll in a one-on-one tutorial in preparation for researching and writing a senior thesis. This is a requirement for all concentrators.

Social Studies is an application-only concentration. All sophomores considering concentrating in Social Studies must take Social Studies 10a: Introduction to Social Studies in the fall term. This course is a prerequisite for applying to Social Studies. The application deadline for sophomores (class of  2012) is  Friday, October 23rd, 2009.

Transfer students and second-semester sophomores seeking to change concentrations can apply to Social Studies in mid- January for admission in the spring semester, and juniors can apply in September for admission in fall.


For students entering the College in Fall 2008 or later.
Other students should refer to the Handbook for Students from the year in which they declared their concentration.

13 half-courses

  1. Required courses:

    1. Social Studies 10a and 10b.

    2. Social Studies 98, the junior tutorial.  Students must take two junior tutorials.

    3. Social Studies 99, the senior tutorial (full course).

    4. One half-course in economics. This requirement can be fulfilled by taking the first semester of Social Analysis 10, by taking Social Analysis 72, or by taking one half-course in economics for which Social Analysis 10 is a prerequisite. The economics requirement must be completed by the end of the junior year.

    5. One half-course in elementary statistics. The statistics requirement must be completed by the end of the junior year.

    6. One course in the philosophy and methods of the social sciences, an appropriate course in social or political theory, or a course in social science methodology. Students must complete this requirement by the end of the junior year. Starting with the class of 2013, all Social Studies concentrators will be required to take a course in the philosophy and methods of the social sciences.

    7. Four half-courses studying the student’s focus field. These courses will be selected in consultation with the student’s adviser and must be approved by the Social Studies Board of Instruction. The focus field should be drawn from two social science departments and must include at least one half-course on a historical topic.

  2. Tutorials:

    1. Sophomore year: Social Studies 10a and 10b (two terms). Letter-graded. Weekly lectures and discussion sections in groups of eight students.

    2. Junior year: Social Studies 98. Two terms required.

    3. Senior year: Social Studies 99 (full course, indivisible), the writing of a senior thesis. Graded SAT/UNS. Each thesis has two independent readers.

  3. Thesis: Required.

  4. General Examination: An oral examination taken at the end of the senior year which includes a defense of the thesis and a comprehensive discussion of the student’s focus area in Social Studies.

Joint Concentrations

Social Studies discourages most joint concentrations, as the program is already interdisciplinary, and students seeking to gain expertise in another discipline can usually do a secondary field in that discipline. We do not allow joint concentrations in the sciences or the humanities, or with the departments with which we share faculty (anthropology, economics, government, history, and sociology). However, students with unusual interests can petition the Social Studies Board of Instruction for permission to do a joint concentration with a few programs, such as African and African American studies; studies of women, gender, and sexuality; East Asian studies; or the comparative study of religion.


Each student entering the concentration is assigned an adviser who sits on the Social Studies Board of Advisers and is responsible for helping the student plan his or her course of study. In the first semester of concentration, the adviser is that student’s sophomore tutor. Whenever possible, the same adviser continues to serve in this capacity until the student graduates. When this is not possible, another adviser is assigned who shares similar interests with the student. Usually a student will meet with his or her adviser at least twice a year to sign study cards and discuss the student’s Plan of Study. The director of studies heads the Board of Advisers.

For up-to-date information on advising in Social Studies, please see the Advising Programs Office website.


For more information, contact the assistant director of studies for Freshman/Sophomore Advising, Dr. Thomas Ponniah, or the undergraduate program administrator, Sarah Champlin-Scharff, on the lower main floor of Hilles Library (617-495-2163).


Non-exempt areas:

Exempt areas:

Foreign Cultures

Historical Study A

Historical Study B

Moral Reasoning

Literature and Arts A

Quantitative Reasoning

Literature and Arts B

Social Analysis

Literature and Arts C


Science A


Science B


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







Social Studies






Social Studies + another field






Another field + Social Studies