Ancient Near Eastern Studies


Old Assyrian Cuneiform Tablets (c. 1875 BCE). Image courtesy K. Wagensonner.

Old Assyrian Cuneiform Tablets (c. 1875 BCE). Image courtesy K. Wagensonner


The graduate program in Assyriology prepares students to become leading researchers, university teachers, and communicators in their field. It combines advanced training in the languages of Western Asia prior to the first century of the Common Era with instruction in the varied approaches to the continuously evolving research of its histories and cultures.

Particular to the study of early history in Western Asia is the fact that writing was developed for and tied to clay as a medium. The longevity of clay has led to a huge number of text surviving from Mesopotamia ca. 3400 BCE-100 CE, in some respects making it the most densely documented historical period prior to the Middle Ages. Also, unlike e.g. later Greek or Roman manuscripts, which often exist as copies that have been passed down through tradition, virtually all written sources for Mesopotamian history and statecraft survive directly as documentary records from archives that have remained in the ground since their time of use. This has given rise to a distinct historiography in the discipline of Assyriology. An extensive material and visual record add key data to the study of culture and its diffusion alongside work on early landscape, movement, and environment.

The field of Assyriology is also characterized by its open corpus of texts to which one can expect a sizable sample of new sources added from archaeological excavations each year. The result has been a dynamic historiography in which widely accepted interpretive models occasionally get turned upside-down by new finds. This provides an exceptional opportunity to work with ‘history from below’ in the context of deep history, and due the nature of its source material, Assyriologists study the voices of people who normally remain silent in the historical record – the poor, women, children, slaves.

Graduate students of Assyriology at Harvard are thus equipped to challenge ideas of ‘history beginning in the West’ and to confront those who cast its ‘miraculous intellectual achievement’ in the inexplicable light of destiny. Through a rigorous and extensive training in languages and histories across the more than three millennia, they are imminently prepared to take on one of the leading challenges to the Humanities of the 21st century: to deconstruct and question ideas of cultural supremacy and challenge simplistic notions of ‘cultural evolution’ oftentimes used to justify present action. Assyriology teaches complexity and disrupts narratives of historical exceptionalism in favor of more subtle stories of social economic and intellectual change.

Students enrolled in graduate program of Assyriology at Harvard develop essential philological skills, a deep familiarity with an ancient textual record; and a knowledge of historical, literary, and linguistic theory. They receive several years of advanced training in Akkadian and Sumerian, as well as a full sequence of courses in Mesopotamian history and culture. Students come out with a general familiarity of all periods and textual genres represented by the two constituent languages. In collaboration with Faculty in other departments, teaching also covers broader instruction in philology, language and linguistics, as well as regional historical and material-culture courses (including Iran, Anatolia, Syria and the Eastern Mediterranean), the study of visual culture, research history, social theory, and various specialized topics.

A significant component of graduate instruction is devoted to training students to become exceptional educators. We involve the doctoral cohort across the ancient fields in the department at all levels of instruction and work with them to learn how to define teaching goals, build syllabi, offer feedback, and conduct proper examinations and grading. We also strive to have advanced graduate students in Assyriology gain experience teaching several different types of courses and on different levels, including language instruction and undergraduate offerings as TFs, and, towards the end of their graduate career, as co-teachers, or even solo instructors of small classes under Faculty supervision. We also encourage students to participate and present in national and international conferences, putting in place structures of feedback and quality assurance before they set out on a research career of their own.

The Department’s program in Assyriology is closely associated with the Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East, which is home to a substantial collection of excavated and collected artefacts and archival materials from Western Asia. Here, students have the opportunity to develop exceptional skills in working with such materials, both in class and for dissertation research. Frequent visits by national and international scholars, several disciplinary and interdisciplinary doctoral workshops, and a substantial network of scholars working with ancient history at Harvard and in the greater Boston area are all contributing factors to the formation of a highly stimulating intellectual environment in which our graduate students develop into leading scholars of the field of Assyriology.

Students interested primarily in early societies, Classical Antiquity, or the study of the Hebrew Bible studies should of course consult those programs for relevant information, but they are strongly encouraged also to develop knowledge of the languages and histories covered by the Assyriological graduate program. They are warmly welcome in our classes and our workshops.






The study of Egyptology at Harvard is built on the spectacular legacy of George Reisner (1867–1942) and the Harvard University–Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition to Egypt and Sudan, as well as the establishment of the Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East in 1889. Thousands of objects from the HU–MFA Expedition, from 23 different archaeological sites spanning over forty years of excavations, are housed at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in the Peabody Museum at Harvard University, and in the Museums of Cairo and Khartoum. Additional Egyptian collections are in the Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East and the Harvard Art Museums. The Library resources at Harvard in Egyptology and related fields are unparalleled.

Professor Peter Der Manuelian is the primary instructor, with occasional visiting scholars offering additional courses. He is also director of the Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East, and director of the Giza Project at Harvard. Students have the opportunity to contribute to both of these initiatives, working with objects, archives, online 3D modeling, and collections management systems.

Museum Workers

There is an active lecture series with visiting Egyptologists speaking on campus, organized in coordination with the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture; many of these lectures are filmed and available online. And two different workshop series continue throughout the academic year: the “Methodologies in Egyptology and Mesopotamian Studies” (MEMS) and the “Harvard History and Archaeology of Ancient Near Eastern Societies” (HAANES).

The program has also initiated a new monograph series called Harvard Egyptological studies (HES).

Due to the small number of Egyptological faculty and relatively limited course offerings, most graduate students come to Harvard with considerable coursework in the field already completed, often with an MA or MPhil degree. It is rare that students are admitted directly from college with a BA degree.

The Egyptology program covers the Pharaonic era, with a particular but not exclusive focus on the Old Kingdom, New Kingdom, the Giza Necropolis, historical and biographical texts, history, archaeology, and epigraphy. With the basics covered, students are given considerable flexibility in crafting their own path. In addition to traditional Egyptology, the program aims to develop students professionally by welcoming new technological approaches to the field, particularly in the digital humanities, and in conjunction with Harvard’s Anthropology Department (Professor Manuelian holds a joint appointment in both NELC and Anthropology). This includes anthropological approaches, method and theory, archaeological sciences, and GIS. (Those focusing exclusively on archaeological fieldwork are encouraged to apply to the Anthropology Department’s archaeology PhD program, with a focus on Egyptology at the dissertation level.) Opportunities are available for comparative interdisciplinary approaches with other Harvard schools as well, such as the Harvard Divinity School, and the Departments of History, Classics, the History of Art and Architecture, and African and African American Studies.

Students may on occasion supplement Harvard’s Egyptological course offerings by cross-registering for courses at Brown University (Department of Egyptology and Assyriology, and the Joukowsky Institute). We have an exchange program with the American University in Cairo, and another one with Berlin allows that allows graduate students to spend one semester at any of the ancient world studies programs there, such as at the Freie Universität or the Humboldt Universität, as well as the chance to volunteer in the Berlin Ägyptisches Museum.


Courses on campus primarily cover:

Old Egyptian

Middle Egyptian


Egyptian Literature

Digital Epigraphy

Egyptian history/archaeology surveys

The Giza Pyramids

Students are also encouraged to explore neighboring disciplines in the Department such as Assyriology and the history and archaeology of the Levant. After the first two years of coursework, students are provided with paid teaching assistant positions in the third and fourth graduate years to give them valuable teaching experience.

For additional information, please contact Peter Der Manuelian or Eva Misho.