Fall Courses 2018

click here to go to the list of Celtic Courses in the Harvard Course Catalog.


For undergraduates and graduates

Celtic 106. The Folklore of Gaelic Scotland. Natasha Sumner. MW at 10:30.

An introduction to the traditional stories, lore, customs, and music of Gaelic Scotland and Nova Scotia. Scottish Gaelic folklore exploded onto the world stage in the 1760s with the publication of Macpherson’s 'Ossianic' epics, which he alleged to have translated from Gaelic originals. The ensuing controversy motivated scholars to seek out and record Gaelic folklore. The treasure trove they discovered has amazed those interested in traditional cultures ever since. This course introduces prominent collectors, tradition bearers, and their traditions. Issues of collecting are considered, and theoretical approaches are explored to gain a deeper understanding of the material. All texts are available in English translation.

Celtic 111. Shapeshifters and Manbeasts in Celtic Traditions. Catherine McKenna. TuTh at 10:30.

In Irish, Welsh, Scottish and Breton narratives, humans turn into other kinds of animal (and animals into humans) for many different reasons—as punishment, as escape, as expression of their inner nature, among others.  These stories are written into medieval manuscripts, recorded from oral storytellers in the twentieth century, recounted in contemporary film, and embedded in popular music. Is there a stable boundary between the animal and human worlds?  We explore shapeshifting stories in all of these modes and media, reading them against a background of texts about animals and humans from their own times and ours. All of our readings are in English or English translation: no knowledge of a Celtic language is required.

Celtic 121. The Art of Storytelling in Medieval Ireland. Joseph Nagy. MW at 12

An exploration of what we know about storytelling and storytellers in Ireland of the Middle Ages.  Also to be considered are: notions of narrative genres; the hero as storyteller, the storyteller as hero; the interface among native Irish, Classical, and biblical notions and repertoires of story; the "visuals" of story; stories as linked together in cycles, or as "prequels" and "sequels."  Readings will be in English/translation.  No previous knowledge of Irish or Celtic tradition required.  

Freshman Seminar

The Folklore of Gaelic Scotland
Natasha Sumner
W 3-6

This course explores the ‘treasure house’ of Gaelic folklore recorded in the Highlands of Scotland since the nineteenth century. The international controversy over Macpherson’s 'Ossian' poems in the 1760s prompted interest in the Scottish Gaelic folklore from which they were adapted. Folklorists have since documented a wealth of orally recorded material, including tales of ancient heroes (e.g. Finn McCool) and beliefs in malevolent fairies, seal-people, dangerous water-horses, the evil eye and second sight. As we explore these fascinating topics, we will take into account international scholarly approaches to folklore. 


For undergraduates and graduates

Irish 132. Introduction to Modern Irish. Natasha Sumner. MTWTh at 9.

An introduction to Irish as it is spoken and written today. Class work is participatory, and includes conversational role play and games as well as grammar study and drills. Audio and audiovisual resources reinforce pronunciation and aural comprehension. Songs, proverbs, and poems are an integral part of the course, introducing students to the vibrant oral and literary tradition of Gaelic Ireland.

Irish 205r. Readings in Early Irish Prose. Joseph Nagy. M at 3.

Readings in selected texts.

Scottish Gaelic

Scottish Gaelic 167. Advanced Scottish Gaelic. Carol Zall. TuTh 3:00.

Geared to the interests and aptitudes of the participants, this course enhances students' confidence in using Scottish Gaelic as a medium of oral and written communication and introduces them to the Scottish Gaelic literary tradition.


For undergraduates and graduates

Welsh 128. Introduction to Modern Welsh. Catherine McKenna. MTWTh at 9.

Introduction to the Welsh language as spoken and written today, designed for those with little or no prior knowledge of this vibrant Celtic language. Intensive conversation practice is provided, and students learn to write fluently. Internet, audio and video exercises using dialogue, music and film augment a contextualized grammatical survey, and use of authentic literary texts increases as the course progresses.

Welsh 225a. Medieval Welsh Language and Literature. Catherine McKenna. TuTh at 1:30.

Introduction to the language and culture of medieval Wales, with particular attention to narrative prose literature and its Celtic, Welsh and Norman contexts. By the end of the term we will have read in the original one of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi and selections from other texts.

Spring courses 2019


For undergraduates and graduates

Celtic 105. The Folklore of Gaelic Ireland. Natasha Sumner. MW at 10:30.

An introduction to the traditional stories, lore, customs, and music of Gaelic Ireland. Since collecting began in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Ireland has amassed one of the most extensive collections of folklore in the world. Prominent tradition bearers and collectors will be introduced, and issues of collecting will be considered. Theoretical approaches will be explored to gain a deeper understanding of the material. All texts will be read in English translation.

Celtic 194. The World of the Celtic Bard. Catherine McKenna. TuTh at 10:30.

This course explores the role of the bard in the Celtic-speaking societies of Wales, Ireland and Scotland. Through the study of narrative sources concerning the origin and nature of poets and poetry, theoretical and legal texts, and, most especially, bardic poems from the early Middle Ages through the eighteenth century, we examine the physical, public and political power of a medium-poetic verse-now associated with "power" in the private and emotional sense only. We study bardic poems in various modes - eulogistic, satiric, commemorative, prophetic - and we examine the circumstances that support the institution of bardic poetry and those that contribute to its decline. Among the issues to be considered are patronage, convention, the relationship of rhetoric and truth, and the functions of poetic form. All readings in English translation, but there will be some exposure to the forms of bardic poetry in the original languages.

Celtic 350. Teaching Colloquium. Catherine McKenna, Joseph Nagy, Natasha Sumner. W at 12.

A workshop course focused on the craft of teaching, at Harvard and beyond, in Celtic languages and literatures and related subject areas. Topics include syllabus design, classroom discussion, responding to student writing, and assessment. The course includes visiting speakers and analytic visits to classes. Required of G2 students in Celtic; open to all students in the department.


Irish 133r. Intermediate Modern Irish.Natasha Sumner. MTWTh at 9.

A continuation of Irish 132, developing students' fluency in spoken and written Irish. As our knowledge of the language expands, we venture into storytelling, journal writing and writing and performing short skits. Internet, audio and video resources complement the study of grammar and select prose texts.

Irish 204r. Readings in Early Irish Poetry. Tomás Ó Cathasaigh. MWF at 3.

Readings in selected texts. Recommended Prep: Irish 200 or permission of the instructor.

Irish 210. Readings in Modern Irish.Natasha Sumner. M at 12.

Readings in selected texts. Recommended Prep: Irish 160r or permission of the instructor.



For undergraduates and graduates

Welsh 129r. Intermediate Modern Welsh. Catherine McKenna. MTWTh at 9.

Direct continuation of Welsh 128, developing and deepening students' knowledge of, and skill in, the modern spoken and written language. By the end of the semester students will be able to converse, read and write in a number of registers of idiomatic Welsh (academic, literary, informal). Various media, featuring dialogue, music and film, augment the advanced grammatical survey. Central cultural and historical issues are discussed.

Welsh 225b. Medieval Welsh Poetry.Catherine McKenna. TTh at 1:30.

Continued readings in medieval Welsh prose and an introduction to Welsh poetry down to 1400. Continued study of grammar and practice in translation, as well as an introduction to the manuscript sources of the poetry and their cultural contexts, and the intricacies of medieval Welsh poetics.


click here to go to the Full list of upcoming Celtic Courses.

Department of Celtic Languages and Literatures · Harvard University
Barker Center, 12 Quincy Street · Cambridge, MA 02138 · phone 617/ 495-1206 · fax 617/ 495-1010 · email us

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Last updated Tuesday, 28-Aug-2018 11:10:05 EDT