History and Literature

Dr. Lauren Kaminsky, Director of Studies

History and Literature is the oldest concentration at Harvard, and for many years it was the only concentration. Conceived as an antidote to President Eliot’s "elective system," it served as a model for the reconstruction of undergraduate education under President Lowell, one of the founders of History and Literature.

Individual and small group tutorials are the heart of History and Literature. They provide individual instruction and mentoring, opportunities to pursue specific topics in depth, and a general framework within which the many elements of a student’s plan of concentration may be integrated. Concentrators take concentration courses across a variety of departments and programs: Romance Languages and Literatures; African and African American Studies; Visual and Environmental Studies; History of Art and Architecture; Theater, Dance and Media; Music; Women, Gender, and Sexuality; as well as History, English, and many more.

Students take a History and Literature tutorial each semester they are in the concentration. Sophomore tutorial—taught in the sophomore spring by two instructors from different disciplines—introduces students to interdisciplinary methods and explores topics in depth. In the fall semester of junior tutorial, groups of three students collaboratively design a course of study with the guidance of an instructor. In the junior spring, students focus on researching and writing their junior essays. The senior tutorial is one-on-one instruction primarily devoted to researching and writing the thesis.

Written work is an important part of both sophomore and junior tutorial, building to the thesis in the senior year. Students are encouraged to spend their first two years at Harvard exploring various disciplines and subjects of interest before working closely with concentration advisers to select a field of study at the end of the sophomore year. In the junior and senior years, the fields of study provide a structure to ensure that concentrators gain knowledge that is broad as well as deep. History and Literature thus aspires to promote the integration of disciplines and a balance between general knowledge and specific expertise. It is a demanding and immensely rewarding enterprise.

History and Literature encourages concentrators to grow as writers and researchers, and the concentration is designed to teach students to think in interdisciplinary ways.  Students develop skills in close reading, identifying and analyzing primary and secondary sources, posing research questions, conducting original research, using evidence, making arguments, and in communicating clearly and persuasively. History and Literature trains students in the theories and methodologies of historical and literary scholarship so that they may make original contributions with the senior thesis.

Concentrators are encouraged to consider study abroad as a means for augmenting their work in the concentration. Advisers in the concentration work closely with students who elect to study abroad to help craft plans of study that integrate courses taken out-of-residence.
History and Literature requires students to apply before declaring the concentration. Upon submitting an application, students will be asked to schedule an advising meeting. This is the first of many advising conversations that form the backbone of the concentration. Students interested in exploring History and Literature are invited to enroll in a History and Literature 90 seminar, open to non-concentrators, in the freshman or sophomore year.

History and Literature welcomes joint concentrations and secondary fields, and it aspires to make the integration of two concentrations as seamless as possible. History and Literature must be the primary concentration in any joint plan of study, except when the student plans to pursue a creative senior project. In that case, the department providing artistic training may be the primary concentration. Please see the Director of Studies with any questions about joint concentrations.

14 courses (56 credits)

At the end of sophomore year, each History and Literature concentrator selects a field of study and submits a Field Worksheet. Revised worksheets are submitted in the junior and senior years. A regularly-updated list of the courses that count in the various fields is available on the History and Literature website. Courses in the social sciences on subjects related to the student's field may be accepted for concentration credit by the Committee on Instruction on an individual basis.

  1. Required courses:
    1. At least eight courses in the field of study, balanced between history and literature. Specific period requirements exist in several of the fields of study. Details on fields of study and their requirements are available on the History & Literature website. Generally, courses must be letter-graded to count for concentration credit. 
    2. Language requirement: Students must take at least one course in which they read sources in a language other than English. A list courses that count for the language requirement is available on the History & Literature website. Students may also fulfill this requirement by earning a language citation. 
  2. Tutorials:
    1. Sophomore year: History and Literature 97 (one course) required. Letter-graded.
    2. Junior year: History and Literature 98 (two courses) required. Letter-graded.
    3. Senior year: History and Literature 99 (two courses) required. Graded SAT/UNS.
  3. Junior Essay: A required 6,000-word research paper is the focus of the second semester of junior tutorial.
  4. Senior Thesis: 10,000-20,000 words. Required of all concentrators. A student enrolled in History and Literature 99 who does not complete a thesis can receive credit for this course by completing a paper in the relevant field.
  5. Senior Honors Oral Examination: Required of all concentrators except those who do not submit a thesis by the deadline for consideration for honors.
  6. Other information:
    1. Fields of Study:
      1. American Studies 
      2. Ethnic Studies
      3. European Studies
      4. Latin American Studies 
      5. Modern World
      6. Early Modern World 
      7. Medieval World 
    2. Subfields: In the junior year, concentrators may propose subfields, which consist of 2 or 3 courses that would not otherwise count toward the student's field of study. Students will be examined on the subfield during the senior oral exam.
    3. Study Abroad: History and Literature strongly encourages study abroad. Generally, students will take an additional course that counts for concentration credit to replace the tutorial they miss while abroad. Students who successfully complete the junior essay process while studying abroad in the junior spring will receive a one-course reduction in the 14 total concentration courses.
    4. Joint Concentrations: History and Literature allows joint concentrations, but it must be the primary concentration in any joint plan of study, except when the student plans to pursue a creative senior project.
    5. Independent Study: With the permission of the Director of Studies, concentrators may be allowed to take History and Literature 91r for credit.


Each student is assigned to a tutor who also functions as that student’s academic adviser. The adviser and student work closely together to assemble a Plan of Concentration that fits the student’s intellectual interests and fulfills concentration requirements. History and Literature’s personalized academic advising gives students a flexible, individualized educational experience.


Students are invited to visit History and Literature in Barker 122 and online at http://histlit.fas.harvard.edu. Lauren Kaminsky is the Director of Studies.

Number of Concentrators as of December

Concentrators 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
History and Literature 152 151 151 138 140 142 120 128 142 147
History and Literature + another field* 6 4 5 7 11 7 7 7 13 24



*History and Literature participates in joint concentrations only as the primary field.