German and Scandinavian Studies

German is the second most spoken language in all of Europe, the most prevalent native language in the European Union, and the third most-taught foreign language worldwide. The rich cultural, intellectual, and scientific tradition of the German-speaking nations makes this a popular secondary field for students concentrating in art history, history of science, linguistics, literature, music, philosophy, psychology, religion, social studies, sociology, and the other language and literature fields. The role of the German-speaking nations in world history, their economic significance, and their crucial role in the politics and economics of the European Union give German particular relevance for students concentrating in history, government, or economics. Present-day Germany offers important perspectives on such issues as globalization and multi-culturalism. For these reasons, students in any undergraduate concentration who have attained a good working knowledge of German may wish to explore German cultural and intellectual history in greater depth, while also achieving greater fluency in the language.

Spoken by some twenty-five million inhabitants of northern Europe, the Scandinavian languages are official national languages in five countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden), as well as in three autonomous regions (the Åland Islands, the Faroe Islands, and Greenland). Famed for the Icelandic sagas and other heroic legacies of the Viking Age, medieval Scandinavian literature is among the most renowned of the European Middle Ages, while modern Nordic culture boasts many world-class playwrights, novelists, poets and film-makers— e.g., Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, Knut Hamsun, Edith Södergran, Lars von Trier. Through their political stances, histories and social experiments, the Nordic countries have often held a prominent place on the modern world stage and offer students excellent opportunities for cross-cultural perspectives and research.

The Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures offers courses in German, Nordic languages, and English on topics of cultural and historical interest. Great figures such as Freud, Nietzsche, and Kafka are the subject of regular lecture courses, as are such topics as the Vikings and the Nordic heroic period, the German colonial imagination, Nazi film, Scandinavian literature and culture, and modern Scandinavian masterpieces. Smaller, discussion-type courses cover the age of Goethe, nineteenth-century Realism, the relationship between Germany and the European Union, America in the German mind, German pop literature, and much more.

This secondary field is designed to be as flexible as possible so that individual students, with the help of the director of undergraduate studies, can construct the most meaningful program for their needs.

Requirements: 5 numbered half-courses

  1. Two of the five courses must be at the 100 level or above.

  2. Three of the five courses must be ones in which all texts are read in the original language.

Other Information

Up to two Core or General Education courses regularly offered by faculty in the department may count toward the secondary field. However, only one class can count towards both Core and General Education requirements and the secondary field. Freshman seminars taught by members of the department count toward the secondary field. Courses should be selected from those listed and cross-listed under Germanic Languages and Literatures in the Courses of Instruction. Appropriate substitutions may be made with permission of the DUS.

Normally no more than one half-course in German on the second-year level may be counted toward the secondary field (i.e. German Ca, Cb, Dab); in consultation with the DUS, all levels of less commonly-taught Germanic languages (e.g., Swedish A, Dutch Aa, Yiddish A) may be counted toward the secondary field.

With the exception of one approved Freshman Seminar (which must receive the grade of SAT), all courses must be taken for a letter grade and cannot be taken Pass/Fail; a grade of B- or better is required for these courses to count towards the secondary field.

Harvard Summer School courses and study abroad courses may be counted upon approval of the director of undergraduate studies.

Advising Resources and Expectations

Students interested in pursuing a secondary field should contact the director of undergraduate studies in German, Markus Wilczek (617-496-4934; or the director of undergraduate studies in Scandinavian, Stephen Mitchell (617-495-3515;