Medieval Studies

The “Middle Ages” is the name given to a 1000-year long period of European and Near Eastern history and culture (c. 500-1500 C.E.) between “Antiquity” (c. 1000 B.C.E.-500 C.E.) and “Modernity” (c. 1500 C. E. on). “Modernity” has often viewed the medieval period condescendingly, associating it with a small number of basic themes and images: heroism and chivalry (warriors, knights, ladies, castles); “courtly love” (knights, ladies, gardens); the “feudal” (knights, priests, and peasants); belief (priests, saints, and martyrs); credulity (everyone); repression (heretics, magicians, and non-Christians); and so on. But these are stereotypes, which may tell us more about “Modernity” itself than they do about a period many of whose innovations—the nation state; vernacular literature; the university; books; artillery; clock time—are foundational to Western culture as we know it, and which is in any case too vast and varied to be described in any simple set of terms. To know about the Middle Ages is to gain a uniquely valuable perspective on modern history and culture, but it is also to gain insight into the wealth of different ways in which human societies function, invent, create, believe, and interact. From the viewpoint of its cultural descendants—in the New World, as well as the Old—the Middle Ages is both “us” and “not us,” at once part of our collective heritage and something quite other.

The secondary field in Medieval Studies examines the Middle Ages from many different angles and through the eyes of many different disciplines, drawing on the wealth of medieval teaching and scholarship at Harvard, where there are faculty medievalists in at least twenty departments, programs, and schools. The secondary field consists of one foundational half-course, which can be taken in any discipline, plus four more advanced courses, designed to expose students to a variety of the wide range of disciplines which make up Medieval studies. Some of these courses teach or require specialist skills, but most are intended to be accessible to any interested student, whatever their field of specialization.

Requirements: 5 half-courses

  1. One foundational half-course chosen from among any of the courses below the 90-level listed on the program's website. Students may petition to count History and Literature 97a towards this requirement if they have focused on medieval topics.

  2. Four additional half-courses that bear a Medieval Studies designation or are cross-listed in the Medieval Studies chapter of the Courses of Instruction, with the following stipulations:

    1. One half-course at the 90-level or above in three of the four broad areas of study:

      • The Arts

      • History

      • Literature and Language

      • Thought and Religion

    2. All three courses may be taken in Medieval Studies, but no more than one of these advanced courses can otherwise be from any one department.

    3. One elective half-course chosen from any of the offerings listed on the program's website at any level.

Other Information

All five courses must be taken for a letter grade and passed with a B- or better, except for approved Freshman Seminars, which are graded SAT/UNS.

Ordinarily, courses from Harvard Summer School, study abroad, or Harvard schools other than FAS may not be counted to the secondary field in Medieval Studies. (Courses offered in Harvard schools other than FAS must be jointly offered in FAS to count toward the secondary field; courses abroad offered by the Harvard Summer School must be taught by members of the Committee on Medieval Studies to count toward the secondary field.)

Courses counting for a secondary field in Medieval Studies are updated periodically. If students find other courses that could count, they should contact medieval@fas.harvard.edu.

Advising Resources and Expectations

For more information on the secondary field, or for advice on how to devise your program with the field, please contact medieval@fas.harvard.edu.