To apply, please visit the Harvard Summer School website.

Located at an important Mediterranean crossroad between East and West, the Summer Program in Greece examines comparatively the historical and cultural phenomena of migration, boundaries and empire in the Eastern Mediterranean and beyond. For most of history, most people lived in empires—and in today’s world of nation states and multinational corporations, the effects of empire are still with us. Greece is an ideal location from which to contemplate migration movements and ancient empires and their subsequent manifestations in the region. Studying these historical and cultural occurrences in an interdisciplinary light enables us to address historical and still pressing issues of power, identity, and cross-cultural contact from a stimulating new angle. It also expands and enriches our understanding of the move of populations and migration through the centuries up until the present day.

Due to its location and the wealth of the historical, artistic, and archaeological record, Greece enables an exceptionally fruitful study of these topics. The course explores some of the major cultural traditions, their points of overlap, mutual influence, and strategic divergence.

Now in its nineteenth year, the five-week course consists of interrelated seminars. Each week-long seminar meets daily (Monday through Thursday), for a total of four two-hour periods. Seminars run in pairs over the first four weeks of the course; students write two short response papers (two pages) per week. The fifth week is devoted to the writing of the final ten-page paper. Students are contacted about book purchases and preparatory reading in late spring; other material is available online and through access to Harvard digital resources.

Syllabus 2020

Migrations and Boundaries: Reconceptualizing Mobility in the Eastern Mediterranean and Beyond

In the discourse of cultural origins, the eastern Mediterranean holds a seminal place. The arts and sciences, history, philosophy and theology, all have long traditions of cultivation and dissemination in the region. Geographical and environmental factors, not least the unique connectivity supplied by millennia of Mediterranean seafaring, have shaped the transfer of ideas and people across material and symbolic borders. This is the space of the initial flourishing and later preservation and transmission of the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome, as well as the birthplace of three major monotheistic traditions. The exchange of ideas and populations, often voluntary, at other times violent and forced, has been a persistent feature of the histories of the region. This course will explore some of the major cultural traditions, their points of overlap, mutual influence, and strategic divergence at key points in the history of the region. The course will also analyze important political formations such as Ancient Athens and Rome, the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, attempts at modernization in the late Ottoman empire, and the rise of nation states in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the Balkans and the Middle East. At the heart of our inquiry will be the ways in which political formations, epistemologies, and artistic traditions have shaped and been shaped by the movement of people in the Eastern Mediterranean and beyond.

Week 1

Borders, mobility, and migration in historical perspective (Nicolas Prevelakis)

This mini-seminar will provide a general framework in order to understand the topics of border, migration, and mobility. We will be asking the following questions: What is a border? How have borders been understood, and how have they functioned throughout the history of the region? To what extent did ancient city-states, empires, and modern nation-states have a different understanding of borders? Examining these questions will allow us to better understand the role of mobility and migration in the Eastern Mediterranean, from Antiquity to the current refugee crisis.

Greece and its History: Empires, Nations, Migrations (Dimitris Kastritsis)

The mini seminar introduces students to key themes for understanding the history of Greece and its people, which is largely one of empires and vast movements of people and ideas. We will begin with an introduction to the modern Greek state and its historical 'baggage', from antiquity to independence from the Ottoman Empire. In our second meeting, we will consider the role of empires in history and in the movement of people and ideas. In our third meeting, we will briefly examine the Ottoman Empire from which Greece was born, an empire which stretched from Asia to Europe and from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. Finally, in our fourth meeting we will discuss the material heritage of the Ottomans and other medieval and early modern civilizations in Greece. The class will end with a short tour of some of the monuments in the old town of Nafplio.

Week 2

Crossings of boundaries between social order and disorder in the East Mediterranean, from the Bronze Age to the era of Alexander (Gregory Nagy)

Boundaries between social order and disorder in the East Mediterranean were crossed in many different ways during a period lasting over a thousand years of prehistory and history as surveyed in this seminar. Of special interest are (1) the emergence of a hybrid Minoan / Mycenaean civilization in the second half of the second millennium BCE and (2) the intensification of Hellenic and non-Hellenic differentiations in the "dark" and then "archaic" and then "classical" ages of the first millennium BCE. The seminar will highlight evidence for (a) cultural fluidity, in the late "archaic" and early "classical" ages, involving Greeks living inside and outside the Persian Empire and (b) contested models, operating in the earlier "dark" ages, of civilization as transmitted by mobile artisans who were juridically immune as they crossed boundaries from one petty kingdom to another. Primary sources to be read will include selections, in English translation, from epic and from "wisdom" poetry, together with prose accounts by historians like Herodotus and Thucydides, as also by antiquarians like Pausanias. In such ancient Greek sources, as also in non-Greek counterparts, the modern reader will find moral problems being posed about dysfunctionalities experienced by gods as well as by humans in the heroic era of myths—as opposed to the functionalism of social orders as they existed in the "post-heroic" era of rituals that recapitulated the myths.

Rome and China: boundaries, identities and outsiders before the nation state (Emma Dench and Michael Puett)

The Roman and Han empires interacted only through intermediaries, and each had only a vague notion of the other, despite the fact that they were at their height at roughly the same time (between the 200's BCE and the 200's CE). Comparing and contrasting these two ancient empires offers us great insight into the different ways in which boundaries, identities and migration were conceptualized before the formation of the nation state. We will focus particularly on ancient conceptualizations of the world and of the extent of Han and Roman power within it, on notions and enactments of imperial communities, and on ideas about and behavior towards outsiders.

Week 3

Waiting for the Barbarians: Power, Identity, and Communication (Dimiter Angelov)

Fear of the barbarians permeated the mentality of the Byzantines, the Greek-speaking Romans of the Middle Ages. The mini seminar explores ways in which this apprehension affected collective self-perception and perception of the other. What were the preconceived notions about the other and how much did the inhabitants of medieval Constantinople know about the peoples and geography of the world? Particular attention is paid to the role of public communication. What were the authorized and informal ways in which news traveled from the capital to the provinces and back? Why was there so much rumor and hearsay disseminated both among the barbarians and the emperor's own subjects? We will explore these questions in informal seminar discussion based on select primary texts.

Knowledge in Motion in the Eastern Mediterranean (Sahar Bazzaz)

In recent years, scholars have emphasized the intimate relationship between science and empire. This seminar considers a largely under-examined area of empire/science studies namely, the Ottoman empire—an imperial formation whose history and periodization does not align with European or North American models. We will focus specifically on scientific expeditions as a way of thinking about how knowledge moves.

‘All is translation and every bit of us is lost in it’: from and into Greek, in and on Greece (Anna Stavrakopoulou)

This seminar explores the role of translation as movement between languages and cultures, running parallel to willing or forced geographic relocations. We will examine translations by and for well-known Greek poets, focusing on C. P. Cavafy, George Seferis and Kiki Dimoula, by considering how translation contributes to the shaping of a national literary canon, how chance events might determine the global reception of a poet and whether the international acclaim might have an impact on national appreciation. We will also be reading some theoretical texts (Walter Benjamin, Edward Said, George Seferis), asking questions pertaining to translation and its decisive side-effects in the shaping of languages, cultures and national identities.

Week 4

Migrants, Exiles, and Refugees in the Modern Eastern Mediterranean (Ilham Khuri-Makdisi)

The expansion of empire, and the unraveling of empire, have generated mass migrations. Our point of departure will be the break-up of the Ottoman empire and accompanying nation-state formation in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which created vast movements of people in the eastern Mediterranean. The course will analyze pivotal moments in the voluntary or forced exchange of people and ideas in the region against the backdrop of nineteenth-century Ottoman modernization efforts, growing nationalism, and the aftermath of the Balkan and World Wars, with particular emphasis on the exchange of populations following the Greek-Turkish war of 1920-22. We will then build on the insights drawn from philosophical and literary texts about hospitality, exile, and cosmopolitanism to grapple with the contemporary treatment of refugees as one of the crucial political and moral questions of our time.

Hospitality and Displacement (Yota Batsaki)

This seminar has been designed in dialogue with Professor Khuri-Makdisi course on Migrants and Refugees in the Modern Eastern Mediterranean. Beginning with the premise that the treatment of refugees is one of the crucial political and moral questions of our time, the seminars adopt a dual approach: they consider the right to asylum and hospitality from a variety of ethical, aesthetic, and philosophical perspectives; and they study the modern historical record of voluntary or forced displacement in the region with particular attention to the exchange of populations following the Greek-Turkish war of 1920-22 and the contemporary flow of refugees from the Middle East to Lebanon, Turkey, and Greece.


An essential and very popular part of the program’s curriculum has been the weekend excursions to renowned historical and archaeological sites, connected to the seminars taught the previous week. Each year students attend dramatic performances at the ancient theatre of Epidaurus. Other extracurricular activities include guest lectures, dinner discussions, musical performances, and beach trips.

The program’s home locations, Nafplio, Olympia and Thessaloniki are in close proximity to many important archeological sites and there is ample time for short day-trips, in Palamidi and Bourtzi, Mycenae and Epidaurus, in Olympia site and museum and in Vergina.

Students also enjoy a three-day excursion to Athens, visiting the National Archaeological Museum, which holds unique artifacts such as the treasures from the royal tombs at Mycenae; major examples of marble and bronze sculpture from the archaic, classical, and later periods; wonderful frescos from the island of Thera; and representative vases. Additionally, the group will visit the Greek Parliament, climb the Acropolis and also tour the impressive Acropolis Museum, visit the Agora, and enjoy a walk in the National Garden (Zappeion). The central location of the hotel allows free time to explore the city center, including a night tour of some of Athens’ most striking nineteenth-century buildings (Gennadios Library, Academy, University), followed by dinner in the picturesque neighborhood of Plaka.