I was taking a look at my planner today, and I realized that there is less than a month left in the semester. This year has flown by so quickly, and I for one am a little unnerved about the fact that I’m about to wrap up my sophomore year. Generally speaking, I’ve had an incredibly positive Harvard experience, but this spring has been my favorite semester by far. I think that one of the reasons that this semester has been so enjoyable is that I have found my “academic soul-mate” in the History and Literature Department.
At Harvard, you do not declare your concentration until the end of your first semester during your second year. I love that the College gives undergraduate students three semesters to shop around before they declare, because it gives students the opportunity to explore all of their options with minimal pressure. In fact, I hadn’t seriously considered History and Literature as a concentration until this past fall. Since I was able to take my time looking into prospective concentrations, I now go to class every day without any regrets about my decision to study History and Literature.
History and Literature (Hist and Lit for short) is an interdisciplinary field in the Humanities. It’s actually the oldest concentration at Harvard (it celebrated its centennial in 2006 according to the Harvard Handbook), and is unique to the College. In Hist and Lit we do our best to understand the historical and literary significance of a given text, and connect the text to larger themes. To be honest, my own mother still gets a little confused when I try to explain the difference between “History and Literature” and History, Literature, and English, so feel free to check out the profile on the department’s website if you want more information!
In Hist and Lit, my field of interest is America (1607 to Present), but students can choose to study Latin America, Postcolonial Studies, Medieval Europe, Early Modern Europe, or Modern Europe as well. Each field offers a selection of tutorials that are, without a doubt, the backbone of the department. The tutorial is a required course that Hist and Lit students take every semester following their declaration. Tutorials basically promote the integration of History and Literature. The sophomore tutorial, which I am enrolled in now, is taught by two professors, one to represent each field, and all tutorials are kept small to facilitate discussion. Tutorials allow students the opportunity to practice and perfect the research and writing skills that they need to succeed in interdisciplinary scholarship, but they shift their focus as students progress, so my junior and senior tutorials will be a little different. The most exciting (and intimidating) part about being a History and Literature student will be my senior thesis. Since it is an honors concentration, seniors are asked to produce a 10,000 to 15,000-word thesis about a subject that they find to be interesting, important, and relevant to their fields.
Harvard has over 40 concentrations that undergraduates can choose from, so there really is something for everyone. Every department has something special to offer, and if you don’t feel at home in any of the departments you are welcome to declare a Special Concentration and design your own plan of study. I love my concentration because I get to sample a little bit of what the other departments have to offer. History and Literature is a unique and dynamic field, and I cannot imagine myself in another discipline. Humanities or bust!