Harvard Summer Program in Greece

June 23, 2018 to July 29, 2018
Apply by: 
January 25, 2018

It’s been great, Greece. The most wonderful five weeks I've ever spent and far far better than anything I’d ever imagined before leaving the US. I’ll be back!”

Comparative Studies on Empire and Migration
This comparative seminar introduces you to historical, sociological, and literary approaches in the study of empires in the Eastern Mediterranean and their legacies in the modern world. The seminar explores ways in which pre-modern empires (Athens during the fifth century BCE, the Roman, the Byzantine and the Ottoman Empires) have shaped the history and culture of the region since antiquity until the present day. The comparative focus is broadened and enriched through the experience of the Chinese Empire, as well as of western imperialism in the nineteenth century. The seminar examines the phenomenon of mass migration, which marked the dissolution of empires in the twentieth century and is still a burning issue in Europe and Greece today.

You reside in Nafplio, Olympia, and Thessaloniki, visiting many archaeological, historical, and cultural sites along the way. 

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.

Program Structure

This program explores some of the major cultural traditions, their points of overlap, mutual influence, and strategic divergence. In the courses, you analyze important political formations—such as 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 the region’s political formations, epistemologies, and artistic traditions have shaped the contemporary features of the Eastern Mediterranean and, more broadly, the world we live in.

Due to its location and the wealth of the historical, artistic, and archaeological record, Greece enables an exceptionally fruitful study of these topics. The program takes place in three sites of prime historical and symbolic significance: 

  • Nafplio, the first capital of the modern Greek state
  • Olympia, the ancient center of cult and athletic competition
  • Cosmopolitan Thessaloniki, the most important city in Northern Greece, and the second biggest urban center of three empires, under the Romans, the Byzantines and the Ottomans

To learn more, visit the Greece program website and watch a video about the 2017 program.


For this course and its seminars, there are no prerequisites required.

All seminars are in English, and you are always surrounded by proficient users of the English language. You will have the opportunity to pick up some Greek, if you wish. Practice your skills during meetings with the coordinators, interactions with Greek students and faculty, and through immersion in the towns and experiences of Olympia, Nafplio, and other sites around Greece.

COMP S-107 counts as one full-year course (8 credits) of degree credit. The course meets the General Education requirement for either Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding or Societies of the World, but not both, and also meets the Study of the Past requirement.

COMP S-107 Study Abroad in Greece: Cross-Cultural Contact between East and West from Ancient Times to the Present (33279)

Nicolas Prevelakis
Dimiter G. Angelov
Emma Dench
Gregory Nagy
Michael Puett
Panagiota Batsaki
Sahar Bazzaz
Dimitris J. Kastritsis
Ilham Khuri-Makdisi
Anna Stavrakopoulou
8 credits
UN, GR Limited enrollment.

Focusing on the eastern Mediterranean, this course undertakes a diachronic examination of models of empire (Athenian, Byzantine, Ottoman), concluding with questions of nineteenth-century European and modern colonialism and postcolonialism. Particular emphasis is paid to legacies of Hellenism, and to the challenges and possibilities of cross-cultural interaction. The aim is to expose students to historical, philosophical, literary, and political models for studying this interaction.

Now in its seventeenth year, the five-week course consists of eight 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. Seminar topics are listed below.

Prerequisite: none.

Course seminars

Comparative Studies on Empire and Migration
This comparative seminar introduces students to historical, sociological, and literary approaches in the study of empires in the Eastern Mediterranean and their legacies in the modern world. The seminar explores ways in which pre-modern empires (Athens during the fifth century BCE, the Roman, the Byzantine and the Ottoman Empires) have shaped the history and culture of the region since antiquity until the present day. The comparative focus is broadened and enriched through the experience of the Chinese Empire, as well as of western imperialism in the nineteenth century. The seminar examines the phenomenon of mass migration, which marked the dissolution of empires in the twentieth century and is still a burning issue in Europe and Greece today.

Week 1:

Empires and Migration in Perspective (Sahar Bazzaz, Nicolas Prevelakis)
This double seminar will introduce the main themes of the course by discussing some fundamental theories and concepts. In particular, we will be asking the following questions: What is an empire? How does it differ from a nation-state? How have the different Empires of the eastern mediterranean constructed space and regulated the movement of people? We will be covering mostly theoretical approaches to these questions, as well as insights from different disciplines. As we deal with these questions, we will examine the main historical moments in the history of the region, emphasizing the questions raised by the decline of traditional empires, the rise of modernity, and the creation of the modern Greek nation-state. The theoretical framework proposed in this course will also help us understand the economic and refugee crises that Greece is currently facing.

Week 2:

Athenian Empire, Persian Empire (Gregory Nagy)
The classical view of Athens in the 5th century BCE as a model for the evolution of democracy, philosophy, theater, and athleticism needs to be confronted with historical realities underlying an alternative view. I have in mind here the Athenian “Empire," which can be seen negatively as well as positively. Although there is ongoing debate about the appropriateness of the term “empire” in this case, it is evident that the foreign policies of Athens after 479 BCE in relation to the Greek-speaking regions of Asia Minor and of outlying islands like Lesbos, Chios, and Samos derive in many ways from the policies of the Persian Empire, which had formerly held sway in those regions. The course will concentrate on evidence for parallelisms between the Persian Empire and the Athenian “Empire” that followed. There will be an online sourcebook containing relevant Greek and Persian texts, translated into English.
Rome and China (Emma Dench, Michael Puett)
The Roman and Han empires were almost exact contemporaries, but were connected only via intermediaries and had very little knowledge of one another. Each empire constructed a narrative of its own history, relationship with past regimes, and position within the world, without reference to the other. The Roman and Han empires, as paradigms of respectively ‘western’ and ‘eastern’ empire, have been scrutinized with growing intensity as the balance of power in the modern world shifts and there is a big question mark over its future. Bringing the Roman and Han empires into dialogue with each other provides an extraordinary opportunity to explore some of the hypotheses about empire that you will consider over the course of the seminar as a whole. In our first session, we focus on real, historical connections (such as they were) between the Han and Roman empires as well as evidence of the ways in which each perceived the other. We use evidence of these connections and mutual perceptions to compare the character of interactions, the understanding and management of space, and the articulation of identity in each empire. In our subsequent three sessions, we focus on comparing the ideology, representation and exercise of power across the two empires, exploring in particular the self-image of the emperor, relations between elite and emperor, and the relative places of force and diplomacy in imperial actions.
Week 3:
Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire: Myths and Realities of Imperial Government (Dimiter Angelov, Dimitris Kastritsis)
At their height, Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire both ruled from Constantinople, the New Rome. They controlled much of the same space and had many similarities, yet were also very different. Both were multiethnic and had foundation myths involving the transfer of power from somewhere else. Yet while Byzantium was Christian and its main language was Greek, the Ottoman Empire was Muslim and its main language was Turkish. To complicate matters even further, the Ottoman Empire took over much of the culture of Byzantium and the medieval Islamic world. In this seminar, we explore the two empires side by side, with a view to understanding how they ruled and justified their power, and how their legacy is still felt today in Greece and the wider region.
“All Is Translation and Every Bit of Us Is Lost in It": From and Into Greek, in and on Greece (Αnna Stavrakopoulou)
Empires are by definition multicultural formations where multilingualism is common and often tolerated. At the same time, the formation and dissolution of empire often generates mass movements of people with attendant questions of cultural and linguistic translation. Similarly, nation-state formation in the wake of empire often means the imposition of forced monolingualism. We will explore some of these questions by examining  translations by and for well-known Greek poets. We will also be interested in the interplay between national and international fame. Does translating a Nobel Prize Winner enhance your chances to win the award too? What is the text between the lines in essays we write about other fellow poets? How does translation contribute to the shaping of a national identity? How do chance events determine the global reception of a poet? Does the international acclaim have an impact on national appreciation? In this seminar we will be reading some theoretical texts (Walter Benjamin, Edward Said, Jacques Derrida, George Seferis), asking questions pertaining to translation and its decisive side-effects in the shaping of languages, cultures and national identities, with examples from 19th and 20th century poetry (C. P. Cavafy, George Seferis, Kiki Dimoula).
Week 4:
Migrants and Refugees in the Modern Eastern Mediterranean (Part one with 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. 

(Part two with Yota Batsaki)
The seminar will engage with theoretical texts (Immanuel Kant, Emile Benveniste, Jacques Derrida, Kwame Anthony Appiah) alongside literary texts (Athenian tragedy, the modernist poetry of C.P. Cavafy and George Seferis) and is designed to interweave with Professor Ilham Khuri-Makdisi’s concurrent seminar, which will bring a deep historical understanding to our investigations. 

Where You Live and Study

This program takes place in close proximity to some of the most celebrated archaeological sites in Greece and the Harvard Center for Hellenic Studies. Your studies will be enhanced by this rich setting, as well as by excursions throughout the country. 

I believe I echo a unanimous sentiment when I say that each of us took away something from Olympia that was unique and intensely personal and enriching, be it an appreciation for the classics or Greek sculpture and poetry, a better understanding of the Balkans or of the imperial and urban encounter, or just a compendium of Greek swear words, pet rocks, sand, and Mediterranean salt. It was fabulous.”


You share double-occupancy rooms. Buffet breakfast is offered in all hotels, while dinner is provided either in the hotel or in local restaurants and tavernas. You make your own arrangements for lunch. All the hotels provide a free wireless Internet connection in every room.

  • In Nafplio, we stay at Park Hotel. Classes take place at the state-of-the-art facilities of the Harvard Center for Hellenic Studies, located on the Nafplio waterfront, whose Greek branch was recently inaugurated in 2008.
  • In Olympia, accommodations are provided at Hotel Europa. Classes take place in a fully equipped seminar room—including video projector, printer, computer, and Internet access—within the hotel. 
  • In Thessaloniki, we stay at Mediterranean Palace Hotel. The hotel is centrally located, offering the chance to explore and engage with the city.

How to Apply

Review How to Apply before submitting your application.

Application materials include: 

  1. A statement of interest in the program 
    • Include information on relevant coursework and travel experience abroad (previous travel is not required) 
  2. Letter(s) of recommendation from a current or recent teacher or advisor
    • Harvard College applicants: Submit one recommendation.
    • Non-Harvard applicants: Submit two letters of recommendation so program staff can learn about your academic background and preparation for this program.
    • The letter(s) can be submitted either via mail to the Study Abroad Office (Harvard Summer School, Room 312, 51 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA 02138) or emailed as a PDF directly from the recommender to summergreece@chs.harvard.edu.    
  3. Transcripts
    • Harvard College applicants: You may submit an unofficial transcript accessed from my.harvard.edu.
    • Non-Harvard applicants: Submit an official transcript from your university.
  4. A $50 nonrefundable application fee
Applications are now closed. You will be notified of admission decisions by mid- to late-February.


The program fee includes tuition, accommodation, scheduled excursions and activities, and some meals.

See Funding and Payment for information on how to submit payments and funding options.

Student budget

In addition to the program fee, you will need to budget for a number of personal expenses: 

  • International airfare ($1,300 to $1,600)
  • Local transportation ($50)
  • Lunches and some other meals ($500)
  • Course materials ($100)
  • Personal expenditures, laundry, communications, and miscellaneous ($300)

Note: The amounts are approximate, and you may incur additional expenses not listed here. Your actual expenses will depend on a number of factors, including your personal spending habits and currency exchange rates. If you have specific questions about budgeting, please contact the program directly.

Additional Information

Program directorS

Dimiter Angelov

Gregory Nagy

Program coordinator

Nicolas Prevelakis


  • Sahar Bazzaz, PhD, Associate Professor of History, College of the Holy Cross
  • Dimitris J. Kastritsis, PhD, Lecturer in History, University of St. Andrews
  • Ilham Khuri-Makdisi, PhD, Associate Professor of History, Northeastern University
  • Anna Stavrakopoulou, PhD, Associate Professor of Drama, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
  • Panagiota Batsaki, PhD, Executive Director of Dumbarton Oaks, Harvard University
  • Nicolas Prevelakis, PhD, Lecturer on Social Studies and Assistant Director of Curricular Development, Center for Hellenic Studies, Harvard University
  • Dimiter G. Angelov, PhD, Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Byzantine History, Harvard University
  • Emma Dench, DPhil, McLean Professor of Ancient and Modern History and of Classics, Harvard University
  • Gregory Nagy, PhD, Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature and Director of the Center for Hellenic Studies, Harvard University
  • Michael Puett, PhD, Walter C.Klein Professor of Chinese History, Harvard University