Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations

Professor Peter Machinist, Director of Undergraduate Studies

The Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations introduces students to the peoples, languages, cultures, and societies of the Near and Middle East. Beyond the development of skills in one (or more) of the languages of the region and participation in the Department’s one-term sophomore tutorial, a wide variety of directions of study is available to concentrators. The concentration is intended to provide a solid grounding in the student’s area of focus and to offer an in-depth look at the ways in which modern scholars seek to understand the languages and cultures that have come from this region and that have been so influential throughout the world.

One of the strengths of the concentration in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations is the individual attention each student receives, which allows for flexibility in developing a program of study within the broader arena of the Near East that reflects her or his specific interests. Depending, then, on the availability of faculty and other resources, students may elect to follow a direction such as Modern Middle Eastern Studies, Islamic Studies, Jewish Studies, Biblical Studies, Arabic, Iranian Studies, Turkish Studies, or Near Eastern Archaeology. This list gives only a sample of the possibilities and whichever a student chooses, the choice will be made in consultation with an appropriate faculty member from Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations or an affiliated department, who will then serve as the student’s mentor throughout her or his work, helping to arrange a coherent curriculum of courses in accordance with the guidelines below.

A common thread uniting the various possible directions of study in the concentration is the conviction that facility with the appropriate language(s) is the starting point of all serious work in the various areas involved. Accordingly all concentrators must complete at least four terms of a language of the region taught by the department. To further this goal, as well as to provide prolonged exposure to the civilizations of the region, the department makes possible a junior year abroad, provided that the course work completed abroad falls within the concentration and is approved by the student’s adviser.

Many possibilities for joint concentrations exist and are welcome in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. Joint concentrators take four terms of a language, the sophomore and junior tutorials, and at least one other course in Near Eastern studies, in addition to a senior tutorial in two terms focused on the writing of a senior thesis.

The Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations concentration will be of interest to students who are considering careers in government and foreign service, law, journalism, education, business, and divinity, among others, as well as those who anticipate graduate study in Near Eastern or related fields.

Basic Requirements: 13 half-courses

  1. Required courses:

    1. Four half-courses in a language of the region taught by the department. The language will be chosen in consultation with the student's mentor/adviser to fit each student's particular focus. If students can show evidence at the beginning of their concentration that they already have two years' knowledge of their language, they will be asked to take the two years at a more advanced level or in another language relevant to their focus. In addition, as noted in 1b, it is expected that two of the other courses for the concentration will be ones using the departmental language in a substantial way.

    2. Five half-courses to be chosen in consultation with and requiring the approval of the student’s mentor/adviser, in addition to the tutorials listed below. These should represent a coherent intellectual program. At least two half-courses should make substantial use of the language used to satisfy item 1a. None of these courses may be taken Pass/Fail, with the possible exception of a Freshman Seminar (graded SAT/UNS) already taken by the student, providing that Seminar is accepted as relevant by the student’s departmental mentor and the director of undergraduate studies.

  2. Tutorials:

    1. Sophomore year: Near Eastern Civilizations 97 (one term). A group tutorial required of all concentrators, normally given in the spring term. It will comprise an introduction to the cultures and literatures of the Near East in ancient, classical, and modern times, and will also emphasize major themes and problems that cut across individual cultures and historical periods. The tutorial will be taught by NELC and affiliated faculty members. Papers required.

    2. Junior year: Two terms of tutorial or seminar work required.

      1. Near Eastern Civilizations 98. An individual tutorial normally required of all concentrators in the fall of their junior year. It will normally lie in the particular direction the student has chosen and will require a paper or papers.

      2. Normally, in the spring of the junior year, after consulting with their advisers, concentrators will take either a departmental seminar, an appropriate seminar in another department, or a second junior tutorial with a faculty member in the department or in an affiliated department.

    3. Senior year: Near Eastern Civilizations 99 (one term) required, culminating in a paper or other approved project that brings together each student’s learning in the field.

  3. Thesis: Not required. See item 2c.

  4. General Examination: Required. An oral examination based on the student’s work, to be arranged under the supervision of the student’s mentor and the director of undergraduate studies.

Requirements for Honors Eligibility: 14 half-courses

  1. Required courses: Same as Basic Requirements.

  2. Tutorials: Same as Basic Requirements except, in the senior year, a full year of Near Eastern Civilizations 99, focused on the writing of the senior thesis, is required.

  3. Thesis: Required.

  4. General Examination: This will be based on the student’s work in the field and his or her thesis, and will be arranged under the supervision of the student’s mentor and the director of undergraduate studies.

Joint Concentration Requirements: 9 half-courses

  1. Required courses: Four half-courses in a language of the region taught by the department and at least one other half-course in the department, in addition to those listed below.

  2. Tutorials:

    1. Sophomore year: Near Eastern Civilizations 97 (one term) required.

    2. Junior year: At least one semester, to be arranged between the two departments.

    3. Senior year: Near Eastern Civilizations 99 (two terms) or two terms of tutorial in the other concentration. Should be registered with the primary concentration, and have the approval of the allied concentration.

  3. Thesis: Required. Thesis must be related to both fields. Both concentrations will participate in the grading of the thesis.

  4. General Examination: Same as Requirements for Honors Eligibility.


Sophomores and other new concentrators meet first with the director of undergraduate studies, with whom they discuss their interests and arrange to meet with a member of the faculty who will serve as mentor/adviser in the concentration. Junior and senior concentrators meet with their mentors on a regular basis.

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


Harvard’s library resources in the various fields of Near Eastern Studies are virtually unparalleled. Widener Library, for example, has vast holdings in Arabic, Armenian, Hebrew, Persian, Turkish, and Yiddish literature. The Reading Room of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (Room 410 at 1430 Mass. Ave.) and the Andover-Harvard Library of the Harvard Divinity School also have excellent resources available to students.

Students wishing to specialize in modern Near Eastern political or social studies should familiarize themselves with the resources and personnel of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Those interested in Jewish studies should become familiar with the resources and personnel of the Center for Jewish Studies.

The Harvard Semitic Museum, in which the department is housed, has a superb collection of ancient and medieval artifacts representing many of the cultures of the Near East. As a University teaching museum, the Semitic Museum is dedicated to providing access to these materials for study and teaching.

For concentrators interested in Biblical or other ancient Near Eastern studies, or in the archaeology of the Near East, a variety of opportunities for archaeological work in the Middle East are available. These include the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon, which is conducted by the Harvard Semitic Museum under the directorship of Professor Lawrence E. Stager of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.


First-year students interested in a concentration in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations should arrange to meet with the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Professor Peter Machinist ( Students are also encouraged to obtain a copy of our brochure—The Concentration in Near Eastern Studies at Harvardonline, by mail, or in person from the department office at 6 Divinity Avenue, 617-495-5757.


Non-exempt areas:

Exempt areas:

Historical Study B

Foreign Cultures

Literature and Arts B

Historical Study A

Moral Reasoning

Literature and Arts A

Quantitative Reasoning

Literature and Arts C

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







Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations






NELC + another field






Another field + NELC