The Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (NELC) has a long and rich history at Harvard. The Division of Semitic Languages, created in 1880, was precursor to NELC. Professor Crawford H. Toy taught courses that greatly expanded the curriculum and increased enrollment, including Arabic, Hebrew, and Aramaic. The division was later renamed the Department of Semitic Languages and History. In 1961, reorganization resulted in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. For over a century, through name change and reorganization, the department has resided at the Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East (HMANE), formerly known as the Semitic Museum. 

Harvard Semitic Museum c. 1903

Drawing of the Semitic Museum, c. 1903.

The Department encompasses the study of ancient and modern peoples, languages, literatures, cultures, and societies of the Near and Middle East. Languages include Akkadian, Arabic, Aramaic, Armenian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Hebrew, Persian, Sumerian, Turkish and Yiddish. NELC has three general fields of study for graduate students (A.M. and Ph.D) and has four tracks for undergraduate concentrators. Currently, the department enrolls 60 graduate students and 17 undergraduate concentrators.

Harvard Semitic Museum

Current view of the Museum.

The NELC faculty is world-renowned. Please see Recent Faculty Activity on our homepage for more information on current members of the faculty. In addition to the full-time faculty, the department attracts visiting faculty and researchers from around the world.

Harvard’s educational resources in the various fields of Near Eastern Studies are virtually unparalleled. Widener Library, for example, has a broad assortment of holdings in Arabic, Armenian, Hebrew, Persian, Turkish and Yiddish literature.  For students interested in biblical or other ancient Near Eastern studies, or in the archaeology of the Near East, a variety of opportunities for archaeological work in the Middle East are available, including the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon. Students interested in the modern Near Eastern political or social studies should familiarize themselves with the resources and personnel of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES). CMES is the coordinating body and a primary source of intellectual and material support within Harvard for scholarly pursuits covering the vast area between Morocco and Iran, and beyond. It was the first center of its kind and is responsible for teaching as well as research. The Center for Jewish Studies is the focal point at Harvard for the study and teaching of Judaica through publications, fellowships, lectures and symposia on topics of interest to scholars and post-doctoral research fellows. CJS coordinates undergraduate and graduate studies on an interdisciplinary basis. The Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East, in which the Department is housed, has a superb collection of ancient and medieval artifacts representing many of the cultures of the Middle and Near East. As a University teaching museum, HMANE is committed to providing access to these materials for study and teaching.