Scandinavian Studies

What Is Scandinavian Studies?

This highly interdisciplinary field includes the study of the languages, literatures, folklore, cultures, histories, societies, religions, and mythologies of the Nordic region. This region includes five nation states (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden), three autonomous territories (Greenland, the Faroe Islands, and Åland), and the homeland of the indigenous Sámi people known as Sápmi (Lappland), which spans an area north of the Arctic Circle in Russia, Finland, Sweden, and Norway. Denmark’s red-and-white cross flag, called “Dannebro,” is the oldest state flag in the world still in use and provided the model for the other “Nordic cross” flags except for Greenland and Sápmi, which employ circular patterns. The region is home to eight active modern languages as well as Old Norse, the language of the Vikings. Many of these languages are offered here at Harvard, as well as in pre-approved Study Abroad programs in Scandinavia (both summer and term time).

Why Study Scandinavian?

A Scandinavian concentration (major), secondary field (minor), or language citation provide focus, depth, and a unique edge to more general interests in biological sciences, social sciences, and liberal arts, and our students have gone on to pursue a wide variety of rewarding professions. Learning a Scandinavian language opens to students the distinctive worldview of the Scandinavians. From the time of the Vikings to the present day, Scandinavia has made fiercely unique contributions to Western civilization. Students who learn Swedish can read Stieg Larsson’s blockbuster crime novels in the original, decipher the furniture names at IKEA, and greet the King of Sweden in his own language when they later accept a Nobel Prize. Scandinavia is the birthplace of modern drama, and learning Norwegian or Swedish reveals to students the nuances of Ibsen’s and Strindberg’s masterpieces. Learning Danish helps students understand the irony of Hans Christian Andersen’s celebrated fairy tales. Learning Finnish enables students to appreciate the remarkable meter of Finland’s folk epic The Kalevala. And learning Old Norse immerses students in the mythology, folk traditions, feuds, histories, and humor of the Icelandic sagas and acquaints them with the source material for Wagner’s Ring cycle and the novels of J.R.R. Tolkien. Students not only achieve proficiency in Nordic languages in a relatively short time, they also have a lot of fun!

In our courses, students also learn about the societies that have given rise to these amazing texts. Professor Stephen Mitchell’s popular summer study abroad program in Scandinavia visits actual sites where the mighty Vikings roamed. In the modern era, Scandinavia has been associated with peace and prosperity. Sweden and Norway award the annual Nobel Prizes, named after the Swedish inventor of dynamite. In international relations, Scandinavian countries often host sensitive negotiations or send representatives (such as 2008 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari) to aid in such talks. Scandinavia also leads the world in genetics and biomedical research and in environmental sustainability technologies. They are the most wired countries in the world, home to technology innovators Nokia, Ericsson, Linux, and Skype. The Scandinavian countries rank as the most egalitarian in the world and its residents enjoy the highest standards of living. Scandinavia is home to the world’s oldest parliament (Iceland’s Althing, 930) and a unique set of social welfare states. It has produced pathbreaking models in areas of law, such as children’s rights and sex trafficking. Our faculty work closely with Harvard undergraduates, and network with other faculty in the College, to help students pursue their particular interests in Scandinavia. The personal attention and mentoring students receive from faculty in our program is hard to beat.

Scandinavian Studies at Harvard - A Brief History

Scandinavian Studies began at Harvard around 1835, when the celebrated poet and Harvard professor Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) made a book-buying trip to Scandinavia on behalf of the Harvard Library. It was at Longfellow’s initiative that the University Libraries undertook to collect Nordic texts systematically, and their collections have developed into the finest of their kind in North America. Longfellow later based his epic American poem The Song of Hiawatha (1855) on the distinctive meter of Finland’s national folk epic The Kalevala, published by Elias Lönnrot in 1835. The de facto establishment of Scandinavian at Harvard can be dated to the appointment of William H. Schofield to the Faculty at the beginning of the 20th century. Schofield had studied at the University of Copenhagen and had a thorough knowledge of both the old and modern languages. His appointment in 1906 as Director of the newly formed Department of Comparative Literature further secured the position of Scandinavian at Harvard. Following Schofield’s death in 1920, the instruction of Old Norse and other Scandinavian courses was carried on by Frank S. Cawley until his untimely death in 1940, when a series of junior appointments were made. In the 1950s, a Swedish-American industrialist in Detroit, Gustav von Reis, donated sufficient monies to establish the Gustav Adolf Fund, an endowment which provided for “instruction in the Swedish language and in Scandinavian civilization at Harvard.” With the assistance of the Swedish Institute in Stockholm, a series of Lecturers in Swedish were appointed; since then Swedish, as well as Old Norse, have consistently been offered to Harvard undergraduates. Scandinavianists Einar Haugen and Theodore Andersson presided over an impressive expansion of Harvard’s Scandinavian Program in the 1960s and early ‘70s, the heyday of the Scandinavian welfare model, and course offerings expanded to include virtually all modern Scandinavian languages and all literary periods and genres. Since the 1980s, Professors Stephen Mitchell and Joseph Harris have offered Harvard students an exciting array of courses on medieval and modern Scandinavian topics as well as comparative Germanics, while Maria Tatar’s course on childhood featured the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen. In 2009, Ursula Lindqvist took over from longtime Preceptor Annette Johansson-Los to coordinate a new Scandinavian Languages Program, which offers instruction in Danish, Finnish, modern Icelandic, and Norwegian; and to introduce new courses on Nordic cinema, drama, and theater. In Spring 2012, we were delighted to host a visiting Fulbright Hildeman Scholar from Sweden, Professor Sara Kärrholm from Malmö University, an expert on Scandinavian crime fiction, who taught the undergraduate course on crime, power and politics in contemporary Scandinavian culture. In 2015, Agnes Broomé joined the Harvard program as Preceptor in Scandinavian Languages. Stay tuned for additional special courses in the future! We strive to create opportunities that meet the current interests and needs of our students.

Scandinavian Languages Program

Thanks to the generous support of Harvard’s Office of Undergraduate Education, we are able to offer Harvard students a full array of tutorial courses in the modern Nordic languages, including Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, and Norwegian (in addition to our regular offerings in Swedish and Old Norse). Students who take tutorial courses must demonstrate an academic or curricular need; therefore, those interested in studying these languages should contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies in Scandinavian, Agnes Broomé, as soon as possible, preferably prior to the start of the term in which their language study is to begin, in order to initiate the petition process. 

Program requirements for a language citation in Swedish or for a secondary field, or concentration in Scandinavian Studies are laid out in the Undergraduate section. Visit the undergraduate advising page to learn how you might declare a concentration or secondary field in Scandinavian Studies. 

Language Instructors 

In addition to Dr. Agnes Broomé, who teaches all levels of Swedish, we have a pool of outstanding Teaching Assistants who teach Scandinavian language tutorials under her supervision. While you are welcome to contact them directly, please note that students who wish to petition to take their courses must begin this process by contacting Dr. Broomé.  In 2020-21, the Scandinavian languages team included: Tonje Gulbrandsen (Norwegian) and Caroline Lorentzen (Danish).  

Harvard offers an exciting Summer Study Abroard course, Viking Studies in Scandinavia, led by Stephen Mitchell, Professor of Scandinavian and Folklore. In addition, Harvard has pre-approved study abroad programs hosted by Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian universities for students who wish to study abroad for the summer, a term, or year (see options below). Students may also petition to study abroad in Iceland and Finland; talk to the Director of Scandinavian Studies, Agnes Broomé, regarding options, or drop in at the Office of International Education at 77 Dunster Street. The David Rockefeller International Experience Grants Program (DRIEG) at Harvard provides grants to support students studying abroad during the summer. The deadline to submit a Rockefeller Grant application comes early, so plan ahead! See OIE’s funding sources site and our Opportunities & Resources page for additional sources of funding for Study Abroad.

Viking Studies in Scandinavia - Harvard Summer School

"The Vikings conquer all in their path and nothing resists them."

So wrote a Frankish chronicler about the northern pirates whose collective name has come to represent the European 9th, 10th and 11th centuries. The Viking Studies Program in Scandinavia explores the rich archaeological, cultural, and literary heritage of northern Europe in the early Middle Ages. Itself founded during the Viking Age, The University of Aarhus, located in Denmark’s second-largest city, is our principal host. From this charming sea-side city, we visit important sites and collections in other parts of Scandinavia, integrating the material legacy of the Viking Age with one of Europe's most vibrant and admired literatures, the Icelandic sagas and eddas. After several weeks, the group relocates to the island of Samsø, where students participate in the ongoing excavations at the Viking Age site there. During the last weeks of the course, we return to Aarhus to complete our examination of one of the most celebrated epochs in European history.

For updates on the upcoming summer course, please see the program website or contact Professor Stephen Mitchell.

The Viking Studies program appeals to students who:

• are interested in heroic literature, medieval history and archaeology;
• are eager to explore the relationships between history and national myths; and
• want to experience Scandinavian cultural life.

What do students say?

"I would highly recommend this 'kit.'"

"...extremely engaging, interesting, and thought-provoking. The excursions add much to the material learned in class because they provide a means of directly experiencing and interacting with knowledge learned in the classroom."

“This course was fantastic.”

"This type of course is much more in the spirit of the liberal arts education than a comparable course conducted in Cambridge. You walk away with a deeper understanding..."

"I would certainly recommend these courses to a friend. The courses are taught by very inspiring professors who love the material they teach, and also have vast amounts of knowledge beyond it. It has been one of the most interesting experiences of my life to have such close contact with such professors, both inside and beyond the classroom."

Study Abroad for a Semester or Year

DIS - Study Abroad in Scandinavia

DIS, formerly known as DIS – Danish Institute for Study Abroad, organizes semester-long or summer programs in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Stockholm, Sweden. It is a well-established and tremendously popular program for American students who wish to study in a remarkable European capital. The integration of course work and study tours is a unique feature of DIS. The idea is to offer students a strong academic focus without compromising their ability to freely choose elective courses according to their needs and interests. DIS offers a range of programs for each fall and spring semester, as well as for the summer. Courses are taught in English, although Danish or Swedish language courses are available for students who wish to learn these languages. Many DIS core courses are pre-approved for credit at Harvard. View a list of approved courses and learn about application deadlines on the Office of International Education website.

University of Oslo, Norway

The University of Oslo, located in Norway’s capital city, is Norway’s largest and oldest institution of higher learning. Harvard students may enroll in the popular one-year program of study. Click on these program names for detailed information, including application deadlines, and consult with Harvard’s Office of International Education as well.

Stockholm University, Sweden

Stockholm University, located in Sweden's capital city, is the region’s center for higher education and research in humanities, law, the natural and social sciences, and a work site of leading international researchers. With over 50,000 undergraduate and master's students, 1,800 doctoral students and 6,000 employees, Stockholm University is one of the largest universities in Sweden and one of the largest employers in the capital. People of many different nationalities, with contacts throughout the world, contribute to the creation of a highly international atmosphere at Stockholm University. Harvard’s Office of International Education has pre-approved a popular study abroad program housed at Stockholm University called The Swedish Program. For more information, contact the Office of International Education.

Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs 

Formerly known as the Scandinavian Urban Studies Term, HECUA: The New Norway is a one-term program that addresses topics such as human rights, globalization, national identity, mass migration, peace and justice, gender equality, and the politics of the welfare state.

Other Summer Programs Abroad

Many summer programs in Scandinavia cater to international students.

For students interested in Sweden, the Swedish Institute in Stockholm offers summer courses in Swedish language, a great opportunity to enhance language skills for students who have completed at least one year of Swedish. Students may apply for a scholarship for covering costs (excluding travel to Sweden). Harvard students who wish to apply to these courses should consult Dr. Agnes Broomé in order to complete the university’s portion of the application, so plan ahead! Uppsala University also hosts a popular International Summer Session with Swedish language and culture courses every summer. Harvard students pursuing a Foreign Language Citation in Swedish or a Scandinavian concentration can transfer academic credit for these courses back to Harvard in many cases. For more information about credit transfer, consult the Director of Undergraduate Studies for Scandinavian, Dr. Agnes Broomé, or the Office of International Education.

For students interested in Norway, the University of Oslo International Summer School is an excellent option. In addition to an intensive Norwegian language program, the school offer courses (taught in English) in Norwegian History, Literature, Contemporary Norwegian Society, Scandinavian Government & Politics, International Relations, and Gender Equality in the Nordic Countries, as well as 8 graduate courses in the social sciences.

*Note: Application deadlines for scholarships are nearly always much earlier than the program application deadlines. If you are seeking financial support for your summer studies, plan ahead and discuss your options with the Director for Undergraduate Studies for Scandinavian during the Fall semester, before leaving for Winter Break.

For students interested in Denmark, the Danish Institute for Study Abroad in Copenhagen also offers a Summer Program. Early summer courses offer great flexibility in terms of length of study (three or six weeks) and course selection, while the late summer Architecture & Design courses are thoroughly integrated programs of seven weeks. Remember that you still need to complete your pre-departure paperwork with the Office of International Programs in order to transfer credit back to Harvard.

Students interested in Finland or Iceland may petition the Office of International Education by March 1 to pre-approve a summer study abroad program in one these countries in order to get the credit transferred back to Harvard. The key is to plan ahead and discuss your options with the Director for Undergraduate Studies for Scandinavian and the Office of International Education, preferably by October of the preceding year, to make certain that you have all the information you need for your petition. Note that summer programs must be at least eight weeks in length to qualify for Rockefeller grant funding; other OIP grants are available for shorter programs.

View a list of grant funding available for Harvard students who wish to study abroad during the summer and also consult our Opportunities & Resources page.

Grants and Fellowships for Research and Study in Scandinavia

There are many funding opportunities for conducting research or study in Scandinavia:

Harvard’s Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies offers several fellowship and grant opportunities for undergraduate and graduate student research. See their website for deadlines and information.

The David Rockefeller International Experience Grants Program (DRIEG) at Harvard provides grants to support students studying or working abroad during the summer. See their website for deadlines and information.

Harvard’s Office of Career Services offers a number of scholarships for students who wish to spend the summer abroad. There is a common application for all such grants.

U.S. Fulbright Student Program offers one-year research fellowships for graduating college seniors and for graduate students to all of the Nordic countries: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. Note the early Harvard internal application deadline for fellowships.

Birgit Baldwin Fellowship in Scandinavian Studies for dissertation research is offered by the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Studies.

The American-Scandinavian Foundation offers fellowships for study in Scandinavia, in particular in relation to dissertation research. Language skills are desired. Also see the American-Scandinavian Foundation’s website for a listing of other opportunities.

SWEA International Scholarship for research on Swedish language, literature and society. A part of the research should be conducted in Sweden. Provides support in the amount of $10,000 for a doctoral student to conduct dissertation research.

SWEA’s Boston Chapter offers an annual $7,000 scholarship to a female undergraduate or graduate student who wishes to study or conduct research in Sweden.

SWEA New Jersey offers a $3,000 annual scholarship to a qualified individual who wishes to pursue studies in Arts, Music, Handicrafts, Literature or Science in Sweden.

The Malmberg Scholarship for Study in Sweden supports 1 year of study in Sweden for US residents with Swedish language skills with up to $10,000.

The Sons of Norway offers a number of scholarships to students who wish to study in Norway. For a list of scholarship opportunities, including deadlines and application information, see the group’s scholarship website.

Leifur Eirîksson Foundation Fellowship funds scholars from U.S. universities for graduate research or study at universities in Iceland, and scholars from universities in Iceland to conduct research or study at universities in the United States. Stipends of up to $25,000 for the academic year available.

Additional funding sources for study and research in Sweden are listed on the website of the Consulate General of Sweden (for example, the Bicentennial Swedish-American Exchange Fund supports professional development).

Please check application deadline dates on the organizations’ websites as these may change from year to year.

Internships and Work Experience

Gateway Scandinavia is a program that matches students from Ivy League universities to unpaid internships at Scandinavia’s top corporations. Students may apply at any time, but those interested in summer internships should definitely plan to submit an application prior to March 1 for the best chance of placement. Students should simultaneously apply for scholarship funding (see options above) to fund one’s stay abroad.

The American Scandinavian Foundation in New York has a webpage on training in Scandinavia, as well as a work permit information section. There is also specific information on Denmark (in Danish).

Library Resources

Harvard's extensive library collections in Scandinavian Studies began with the celebrated poet and Harvard professor Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), who made a book-buying trip to Scandinavia from 1835-37 on behalf of the Harvard Library. It was at Longfellow’s initiative that the University Libraries undertook to collect Nordic texts systematically, and their collections have developed into the finest of their kind in North America. Harvard libraries’ acquisitions have since included Konrad von Maurer’s extensive personal library, which included numerous Icelandic manuscripts, as well as original manuscripts by the great modern playwrights August Strindberg of Sweden and Henrik Ibsen of Norway. These manuscripts are housed in the Houghton Library, across the street from Barker Center. More recently, the introduction of a Nordic Cinema course at Harvard has caused Widener Library to systematically collect recent and classic films from all of the Nordic countries and regions. The Harvard Film Archive has a good collection of Ingmar Bergman films and offered a retrospective featuring his early work in December 2004.