The Concentration

History & Literature requires 14 courses, distributed as follows:

This section provides detailed information for students in the concentration, including courses, resources, and a year-by-year breakdown of academic advising information.

Every year, the Assistant Directors of Studies draw up a list of Courses that Count for concentration credit in each Field of Study that includes courses offered throughout Harvard College. If you wish to count other courses for concentration credit, you are welcome to submit a Petition to the Committee on Instruction. 

Below is further information about the concentration:


All courses are generally letter-graded, except for the Senior Tutorial. One exception to this rule is that by petition a student may count a relevant Freshman Seminar for concentration credit. Courses taken at other universities or abroad on non-Harvard programs may count for concentration credit but are not included in the student’s GPA. Harvard Summer School courses, on campus or abroad, also may count for concentration credit; these grades will be included in the student’s grade point average. All other concentration courses are automatically included in determining the concentration grade point average, even if the student has taken more than the minimum number required. A concentration GPA of 3.0 or above is required to be a candidate for honors in the concentration.

HL91: Individual Reading and Research

With the permission of the Director of Studies, and staff permitting, individual reading and research courses on selected topics in History & Literature can be arranged. These courses must be taken for a letter grade.

Advanced Standing

Students interested in completing degree requirements in fewer than 4 years with the help of advanced standing credits should consult the Director of Studies soon after they arrive at Harvard. Because History & Literature requires students to complete 14 concentration courses to graduate, graduating in 3 years is extremely difficult and not recommended.

Leave of Absence

History & Literature students who take a one-semester leave or who for any other reason proceed through the program a semester out of phase should discuss their plans thoroughly with the Director of Studies or Associate Director of Studies. Please note the special deadlines for out-of-phase students. Out-of-phase seniors take their oral exams in December. All History & Literature degrees are awarded in the spring.

Transfer Students

Transfer students from other colleges may receive credit toward fulfillment of requirements for those courses which are approved for Harvard credit by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and subsequently approved for History & Literature credit through Petition to the Committee on Instruction, but the grades will not count toward the concentration GPA.

Students transferring from other Harvard concentrations to History & Literature as juniors frequently use a HL90 Seminar or other course as a substitute for the Sophomore Tutorial. Students should contact the Director of Studies to determine their next steps.

Study Abroad

History & Literature strongly encourages interested students to study abroad. Students considering studying abroad should first investigate possible programs at the Office of International Education (OIE), then meet with our Associate Director of Studies to discuss potential courses and a specific plan of study. Students must file credit transfer applications through the OIE for credit for study out of residence before leaving. The deadlines for these applications are posted on the OIE website. 

At the beginning of their semester abroad, students will submit information on courses they are taking through the OIE’s online system and indicate whether they are seeking concentration or elective credit for each course. History & Literature will review materials for courses proposed for concentration credit and pre-approve courses that fit the student’s interests and plan of study. Final approval will be granted with 1) the student’s submission at the semester’s end of a brief report detailing readings and assignments completed, and 2) the receipt of the student’s transcript by the OIE.

If there is not enough course material available at the start of the semester for a course to be pre-approved, students may submit a petition to the Committee on Instruction upon their return. Alternately, if students wish to count coursework completed abroad as part of a subfield, students may submit a subfield proposal to the Committee on Instruction. In these cases, students should bring all relevant materials (syllabi, papers written, copies of final exams, final presentation notes, etc.) for review. If, as is not uncommon abroad, the instructor insists on keeping the student’s papers, the student should make copies of his or her work to bring back to Harvard. Questions about obtaining concentration credit for courses taken abroad should be addressed to the Associate Director of Studies.

Students will still be required to fulfill fourteen half-credits in History & Literature, though up to four courses may be accepted from another university. Grades from study-abroad programs, however, are not counted in students’ grade point averages.

Students who study abroad may substitute another course for junior tutorial, but all students must complete the junior essay. Students who are abroad in the spring may elect to undertake a new project, to extend a written assignment they completed in the fall semester, or to submit revised and expanded work from one of their abroad courses, so long as that work meets the requirements of the junior essay and is submitted by the due date in the spring. Alternately, students may submit their junior essays in the fall before they leave. Students should discuss their plans to complete their junior essays with their tutors and, as needed, with the Associate Director of Studies.

Joint Concentrations

Students may create a joint concentration combining History & Literature with another department or program if they offer strong intellectual grounds for doing so. History and Literature must be the primary concentration in any joint plan of study. Joint concentrators are usually required to complete the History & Literature junior seminar, junior essay, and the senior oral examination; the senior thesis will be administered jointly by the two departments. Course requirements in the History & Literature portion of the joint concentration will be determined by the student and the Director of Studies. Courses in both the primary and allied programs are taken into consideration in calculating a joint concentrator's concentration GPA. Degree recommendations for joint concentrators will be determined in consultation with both concentrations. Students interested in joint concentrations should discuss their plans with the Director of Studies.

Secondary Fields

Students are welcome to pursue a secondary field in addition to their concentration in History & Literature. Concentrators with comparative and transnational interests may find that secondary fields allow them to pursue coursework that complements and enriches their work in the program. Only one course may count for both the secondary field and the concentration. While students are welcome to discuss with their History & Literature tutors how a particular secondary field relates to their plan of study, secondary fields are ultimately administered by the granting department or program.

Undergraduate Teacher Education Program

History & Literature concentrators may also pursue the Undergraduate Teacher Education Program (UTEP). Concentrators may be eligible to obtain certification to teach in middle or secondary schools in Massachusetts and the forty-four states and the District of Columbia with which Massachusetts has reciprocity. Previous students in UTEP have found that the flexibility of being able to teach both history and literature is a considerable advantage. Students interested in UTEP should meet with the Director of Studies to discuss their plans.