Secondary Field

The Department of English offers a Secondary Field for non-concentrators. Designed to be flexible enough to accommodate every kind of interest in this broad field, it requires six courses, specified below:

Early British Literature

Any course in English Literature before 1800 from the Department’s range of offerings will fulfill this requirement. A seminar in pre-1800 literature can “double count” for these two requirements (although you must still take a total of six courses).

American Literature

Any course in American Literature from the Department’s range of offerings will fulfill this requirement. A seminar in American literature can “double count” for these two requirements (although you must still take a total of six courses).

Undergraduate Seminar

At least one seminar is required, which could be a 90-level English seminar or a Freshman Seminar taught by a member of the English faculty. You may take more than one. Please note: We advise you not to wait until your senior year to fulfill your seminar requirement.

English Electives

Three additional courses in English and/or American literature complete the requirements. They may include literature courses offered through other departments but taught by English Department faculty. No more than two creative writing courses may count toward the total of six.

Completed your Secondary Field?

Secondary Field Declarations will be enabled later in the fall semester. We will post details here as soon as they are available.

Students are free to explore the field by selecting a variety of courses; or they may focus on a genre or mode (such as poetry, drama) or a period (Medieval, Postcolonial) or any other aspect of the larger field. A list of sample tracks is available, which suggests ways that individual students might organize their course selections around a guiding rubric, if they choose to do so. The six courses may be taken in any sequence. With the exception of Freshman Seminars, each course must be taken for a letter grade, with a minimum threshold of C-minus. There are restrictions on summer school and study-abroad credits, which the FAQ and departmental advisers listed below can clarify.


Students pursuing a Secondary Field are urged to seek out members of the English Department faculty for advice on their specific course choices. For more information on the Secondary Field and for advising, please speak to the coordinator of the Secondary Field, Henry Vega Ortiz, 617-495-8443.


Who do I contact in the Department for more information on the English Secondary Field?
The coordinator of the Secondary Field is Henry Vega Ortiz, 617 495-8443.
When is the deadline to petition for June and November degree candidates?
The Registrar sets this deadline, and it usually falls on the seventh Monday of spring term. Students should verify this with the Registrar.
I understand the basic requirements, but I still want some guidance in choosing my courses.
For ideas about pulling together a coherent set of six courses, see the last question below and the accompanying link to suggested Sample Tracks. If, after consulting them, you would like to speak to someone for further advising, contact the Coordinator for the Secondary Field (above), who can help you or suggest more options. You may also see the Director of Undergraduate Studies. Your course selection does not need to follow a predetermined plan, however. Feel free to use them to explore areas of the field in a wide-open way, if you wish.
May I take the six courses in any sequence?
Yes! You may take them in any sequence.
What counts as an Undergraduate Seminar?
Any course led by a professor or lecturer, which has an enrollment under 25. Typically, these are listed in the catalog as 90-level seminars. Another option would be a small lecture course (100-level) with fewer than 25 students, but if you wish to pursue the 100-level option, you must confirm it with the Coordinator for the Secondary Field or the DUS. Creative writing courses do not count as seminars, even though they have small enrollments. Instead, up to two of these workshops may count as electives.
What about Freshmen Seminars?
A Freshman Seminar may count toward the Undergraduate Seminar requirement only if it is taught by an English Department faculty member. It is the only course that may be counted without a letter grade.
When is the ideal time to take an Undergraduate Seminar?
There is not an ideal time, but you shouldn’t wait until your last term. Because of limited enrollments  in seminars, spots aren’t guaranteed. We suggest that you shop a seminar or two before your senior year.
Since an Undergraduate Seminar is required, do Secondary Field students receive preference in being admitted to them?
No, because they are also required of English concentrators. Some seminars have long waiting lists, while others have empty seats. To increase your chances, be sure to shop several.
What counts as an American Literature course?
A number of American literature courses are offered at the 90-level or 100-level every year, and the American content is signaled in the title and/or the course description. Most cases are unambiguous. For courses with mixture of American and other kinds of literature, a rule of thumb is that if more than half the content is American literature, then it counts. If you are unsure, please consult the list of approved American Literature courses or contact the Coordinator for the Secondary Field.
Is there a limit to the number of Creative Writing workshops I can take?
No more than two Creative Writing workshops may count toward the Secondary Field. Students are admitted to Creative Writing workshops only by application at the beginning of each term. See the Creative Writing webpage for the dates and the application process. Creative Writing courses do not count toward the Undergraduate Seminar requirement.
What about Gen Ed courses? Study abroad? Summer school?
You may count one summer school course in literary studies, or one course in literary studies taken for credit at another college or university, in the United States or abroad, toward the secondary field (as long as Harvard College gives you credit for the course). In these circumstances only one course not taught by a faculty member in Harvard’s English Department may count toward the total of six. Thus if a summer school course, for example, is taught by a Harvard English Department faculty member, it counts as would any English Department course. Any other summer school course (as with transfer credits or study abroad) would be limited to one.
Do courses offered in other departments or programs (such as Women and Gender Studies, Literature, VES) count toward the total of six?
Not ordinarily, unless they are also listed (cross-listed) in the English Department. Exceptions would have to meet the following two criteria: (1) the course is taught by a member of the English Department faculty; and (2) the subject matter of the course is literature. To pursue this possibility you must confirm it with the Coordinator for the Secondary Field.
Can I take a course Pass/Fail or SAT/UNSAT?
No. Each course must be taken for a letter grade, with a minimum threshold of C- for it to count. The only exception is a Freshman Seminar taught by an English Department faculty member.
I like all kinds of English literature and I want to explore more. Beyond the basic requirements, can my course choices be free ranging?
As much as you’d like!
I have specific interests that I want to pursue. Can I tailor my course selection to those interests?
Good idea! Here, we’ve created some suggested models for constructing a coherent Secondary Field. The exact selection of courses will vary from year to year, so use this only as a model of what is possible rather than a specific recommendation.