Undergraduate Program Overview

The Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures continues a long tradition of teaching Germanic languages, literatures, and cultures at Harvard that goes back to the poet Longfellow, who gave the first courses on Goethe on this campus. Today, the faculty consists of distinguished and energetic scholars and teachers devoted to a wide variety of specializations, including intellectual history, literature and culture, folklore, and film studies. Some courses are offered completely in German or a Scandinavian language, some completely in English, and others with readings in the foreign language and discussion in English. The language courses are taught in small groups using an interactive approach that helps students become more comfortable in the language from the outset. If you wish to deepen your knowledge of the language, don't forget to explore our Study Abroad and Work Abroad options!

The department offers students a choice of concentration tracks in German Studies and Scandinavian Studies. In each, the focus is on literature and culture, understood in the broadest sense. The programs are designed not only to prepare students wishing to pursue graduate studies but also to enrich those planning careers in government, law, business, medicine, or the arts. The department's offerings help students gain new perspectives on their own cultural position as they develop a more sophisticated understanding of traditions close to, but often strikingly different from, their own.

Languages taught in the department include German (all levels), Dutch (as a tutorial), Swedish (up to third year), and the full range of other Scandinavian languages (Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, and Norwegian), which are taught in language tutorials when a student's academic program warrants it.

See a full list of language courses. 
Download a summary of requirements for concentrations, the secondary field, or language citations. 

Why Learn German?

German is the native language of 100 million people worldwide. An official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Liechtenstein, it is also a native language for substantial populations in other parts of Europe, e.g., the South Tyrol (Italy), Poland, the Czech Republic, and Romania.

Not only is German the most widely spoken first language in the European Union, it is also the third most studied foreign language in the world and in the United States.

Germany’s economy and strong role in the European Union yield business opportunities not only in Europe, but around the globe. The quality of German manufacturing makes its products highly desirable. Germany is known as the land of “thinkers and poets,” but technological advancement and cutting-edge work in the sciences and engineering are equally prominent hallmarks. With its numerous foundations and institutes, many of which support year-long research stays, Germany is committed to extensive cooperation, in every field, with innovators around the world. Many U.S. companies conduct extensive business in Germany. Thus, besides the intellectual rewards, if you know German, you will be a step ahead when embarking on a career.

Why Learn a Nordic Language?

Spoken by some 25 million inhabitants of northern Europe, the Scandinavian languages are official national languages in five countries: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, as well as 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 richest of the European Middle Ages. Modern Nordic culture boats such internationally renowned writers and film-makers as Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, Knut Hamsun, Edith Södergran, and Lars von Trier.

More recently, Scandinavia has become known for its exciting detective and suspense fiction, as well as for its popular musical culture. The long histories of the Nordic countries as well as the social experiments they have undertaken provide students with excellent opportunities for cross-cultural perspectives.

Visit the Scandinavian Studies section.

Resources at Harvard and Beyond

Widener Library offers the most complete research collection in German and Scandinavian literatures, history, and civilization available in the United States. Valuable manuscripts and papers from the estates of such distinguished German poets as Hofmannsthal, Rilke, and Brecht and of such distinguished Scandinavian playwrights as Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg, can be found in Houghton Library together with manuscripts from medieval Germany and Iceland. A unique and important resource is the Busch-Reisinger Museum, the only museum on this continent dedicated to Germanic art. The museum, located within the Fogg Museum, was established at the beginning of this century by Kuno Francke, a distinguished professor in the German Department, with the intention of acquainting language and literature students with the artistic heritage of the German-speaking peoples. The Goethe-Institut Boston (170 Beacon Street) offers a wide variety of lectures, exhibitions, films, and concerts on all aspects of Germany and its present and past culture, and the Scandinavian Library (206 Waltham Street, West Newton) likewise hosts lectures, a Nordic film series, and a weekly coffee hour. Students can gain additional practice in conversation by attending the weekly German Kaffeestunde in the Barker Center, or German and Swedish tables held in the various Houses. Harvard is also home to the German Club, the Harvard College Scandinavian Society, and the Harvard Club of Sweden.