Since the early Middle Ages, the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia have been a crossroads where many different influences – Christian and Jewish, Roman and Byzantine, Latin and Old Church Slavonic – have joined to create a fascinating culture. The first Czech spiritual hymn dates back as far as the eleventh century, and by the fourteenth century, Prague had become one of the political and cultural centers of Europe under Karel IV. In the early 1400s, Bohemia was the stage for one of the great dramas of medieval European history, the Hussite movement, a religious and national rebellion that arose after theologian and preacher Jan Hus was burned at the stake for refusing to recant his views.
Czech literature and culture continued to flourish in the Renaissance, when the eccentric Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II made Prague his home and turned it into a center of astrology, astronomy, alchemy, and mysticism. In the twentieth century, the main currents of modernism – from Dadaism and expressionism to surrealism and existentialism – passed through Prague, shaping the work of Czech authors such as Jaroslav Hašek, Karel Čapek, and Ladislav Klíma; after World War II, some of the major voices of European culture – including Václav Havel, Milan Kundera, Bohumil Hrabal, and the film directors of the Czechoslovak New Wave – emerged from the experiences of repression and political dissent in Communist Czechoslovakia. Today, about ten million people speak Czech as their first language, and the Czech Republic continues to be a center for theater, film, literature, and the arts.
The Department offers two full years of Czech study followed by special courses and tutorials depending on student interest.
Study abroad is encouraged through Harvard’s own summer program in Prague and through other opportunities during the academic year.