Medieval Studies

The “Middle Ages” is the name given to a thousand-year long period of European, Eurasian, and African history and culture spanning the period between “Antiquity” (c. 1000 BCE to 500 CE) and “Modernity” (c. 1600 CE onward). Those who defined themselves as "modern" came to view the medieval period condescendingly, associating it with basic themes and images such as heroism and chivalry, “feudal” society, and religious fervor. All of these are stereotypes that say far more about “modernity” than they do about a period whose innovations are essential parts of Western as well as global culture as we know it today. Learning about the vast and varied period known as the Middle Ages offers a unique and valuable perspective on modern history and culture. It also allows you to see the many 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 very, very different. 

The secondary field in Medieval Studies examines the Middle Ages from many different angles and through the eyes of many different disciplines. It draws 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 course in any discipline, plus four more advanced courses that expose students to the wide range of disciplines that make up Medieval Studies. While some of these courses teach or require specialist skills, most are intended to be accessible to any interested student, whatever the student's field of specialization. 

REQUIREMENTS: 5 courses (20 credits) 

  1. One foundational 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. Three courses at the 90 level or above, listed on the program's website and in the Medieval Studies course search in These courses should cover three of the four core disciplinary areas of Arts, History, Literature & Language, and Thought & Religion. Each of these advanced courses must be offered by a different department, with the exception of Medieval Studies itself (all three courses can have a Medieval Studies number). Students are encouraged to take at least one Medieval Studies-numbered course (e.g. Medieval Studies 106, 107, 111, 117, or 119). 
  3. One elective course at any level, chosen from any of the offerings listed on the program's website; this may include a Freshman Seminar dealing substantially with the medieval period. 


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. 

Courses offered through the Harvard Summer School, and course credits gained through study abroad programs, will only be accepted for secondary field credit if they are on medieval topics and taught by members of the Medieval Studies faculty (e.g. Scandinavian S-150, "Study Abroad in Scandinavia"). Normally, only one such course should be used to fulfill the requirements of the secondary field. Any inquiries about such courses should be addressed to the DUS of Medieval Studies, Sean Gilsdorf. 

Courses offered in Harvard schools other than FAS must be jointly offered in FAS 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 the Medieval Studies Program at


For more information on the secondary field, or for advice on how to devise your program within the field, please contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Sean Gilsdorf, at or 617-496-5857.