Harvard Summer Program in Istanbul




History and human rights

Located on the Bosphorus Strait separating Europe from Asia, Istanbul has long been one of the world’s most fascinating and important cities. Capital city of the Roman Empire in the fourth century, the Byzantine Empire until the fifteenth century, and the Ottoman Empire until early in the twentieth century, Istanbul is today home to many important monuments, including the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and Topkapi Palace, as well as a vibrant center of industry, trade and culture.

This eight-week program offers coursework in history and human rights in Istanbul, Turkey. The program brings together students and faculty from Harvard and Sabancı University at a site on the Bosphorus, offering excursions to and fieldwork in the old city. All instruction is in English.

Course of study

All courses are limited enrollment. Students enroll in two courses. Course enrollments are dependent on availability, and final course enrollment is issued from the Summer School Registrar’s Office following acceptance to the program.


HIST S-1870 Study Abroad in Istanbul, Turkey: City and Agriculture—Studying and Preserving the Historic Gardens of Istanbul (33166)

Cemal Kafadar

(4 credits: UN, GR) Limited enrollment.

The topic of urban farming has become popular in recent years because it offers city inhabitants the opportunity to enjoy quiet green spaces, acquire fresh produce, and reconnect with the natural world. Many cities in the United States and Europe have established neighborhood gardens in which residents are able to cultivate and enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables, and small neighborhood markets have arisen to offer locally grown produce within heavily urban areas. But is the concept of urban farming really such a new phenomenon? Historically, urban gardens across the world have played an essential role in daily city life, as well as feeding large populations during desperate periods of famine and economic collapse. This summer course is designed to educate students from diverse academic backgrounds (e.g., history, biology, environmental studies, public policy, heritage management, archaeology) about the context and history of urban farming practices in Istanbul and to provide hands-on experience in documenting and studying these gardens through an innovative multidisciplinary research approach.


HIST S-1874 Study Abroad in Istanbul, Turkey: Minority Questions in Contemporary Turkey (33167)

Ayse Ozil

(4 credits: UN, GR) Limited enrollment.

In the wake of decolonization and the end of the Cold War, new waves of trans-national movements emerged leading to mass-scale immigration and the flooding of refugees around the world. Bringing about a broad range of social and cultural encounters, these developments have also revitalized issues of ethnic and religious belonging as well as questions of contact with the ‘other.’ In Turkey, a critical outlook to the nation-state paradigm to the background of more global changes and the bid to join the European Union has likewise highlighted a series of minority issues, which are the legacy of the transition from the multi-ethnic Ottoman empire into Balkan, Caucasian and Middle Eastern nation-states. What are these issues? Which groups are involved? How can cultural, linguistic and religious rights be applied to the relationship between majority and minority groups at the national and international levels? How can consciousness of ethnic, religious or cultural diversity be fostered and promoted as a common value? Through an engagement with such historical and contemporary questions, this course aims to offer ways of discussing the minority issues in Turkey.


HIST S-1879 Study Abroad in Istanbul, Turkey: Palestine versus the Palestinians (33168)

Beshara B. Doumani

(4 credits: UN, GR) Limited enrollment.

There is a tremendous tension between the historical evolution of “Palestine” as a territorial unit, on the one hand; and of the “Palestinians” as a people, on the other. Allowed only civil and religious rights, basic questions remain unanswered: In what sense do Palestinians constitute a “people”? What do they want? And can they become a single political community, divided as they are into three major segments: Palestinian citizens of Israel; “residents” living under Israeli control in the Occupied Territories of East Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza; and diaspora Palestinians who form the largest and oldest refugee population in the world?

To explore these and related questions, the course is divided into four thematic segments that layer, simultaneously, on a chronological grid. The first introduces students to historiographical interventions critical of Palestinian and Zionist national constructions of the past. The second suggests alternative narratives of that past by focusing on Palestinian social and cultural history during the late Ottoman period as well as the discursive construction of the “Holy Land” into a territorial space (1750-1900). The third examines the colonial encounters that led to the creation of Palestine in 1922 and its subsequent transformation into Israel in 1948. This segment looks beyond the dramas of war and politics into the social and cultural dimensions of everyday life. It also provides a global perspective on how partition and displacement constitute the two key modalities for the formation of the modern world. The final segment maps out the recent histories of the three major sectors of the Palestinian people after 1948: The refugees in the Diaspora, those who live under Israeli military rule in the Occupied Territories (West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem), and the Palestinian citizens of Israel.


NELC S-170 Study Abroad in Istanbul,Turkey: Human Rights and Vulnerable Populations (33189)

Jacqueline Bhabha  Ayse Parla

(4 credits: UN, GR) Limited enrollment.

International law is no longer a purely interstate arena. Not just states, but individuals now have legal tools that enable them to directly challenge aspects of state sovereignty. As the scope of international law has changed, so has the conception of states. Once thought of as bounded territories with a homogenous citizenry, uniform border controls, and absolute autonomy in their conduct of internal affairs, they now include diverse populations with different claims of belonging, different border regimes, and a complex interaction of domestic, regional, and international legal systems.

This class introduces students to some of the main human rights laws and mechanisms for implementing them. It provides a forum for discussion of different theoretical perspectives on human rights as well as practical questions about how rights translate into realities. We consider how individuals, but also groups and movements, can effect social change using human rights norms. We also explore the distinction between humanitarianism and human rights. The class focuses on a range of vulnerable populations in Turkey, including the following: migrants and refugees, minority resident populations (including Kurds and Armenians), the LGBT community, and trafficked and other exploited populations (whether for sex or labor).


SWGS S-1220 Study Abroad in Istanbul, Turkey: Harem Fictions—From Montesquieu to Mernissi (33148)

Afsaneh Najmabadi

(4 credits: UN, GR) Limited enrollment.

Is harem a space? Is it an institution? What notions of gender and sexuality are affiliated with and informed by the notion of harem? This course investigates the cultural work of harem as represented in several socio-cultural and historical contexts. We begin with reading some historical essays on harem; we then move onto a series of European texts, paintings, photographs, fashion, and films. From late-nineteenth century to the present day, Muslim women have also employed the notion of harem in a variety of ways. We read some of their writings. Course requirements include projects organized around local sites: neighborhood and house mappings, museum visits, and reflections on how such sites were reported in earlier historical documents.



Course credit

See Study Abroad Credit Information.



Afsaneh Najmabadi, PhD, Francis Lee Higginson Professor of History and Professor of the Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, Harvard UniversityAyse Ozil, PhD, Lecturer in History, Istanbul Bilgi UniversityBeshara B. Doumani, PhD, Joukowsky Family Professor of Modern Middle East History, Brown UniversityCemal Kafadar, PhD, Vehbi Koc Professor of Turkish Studies, Harvard UniversityJacqueline Bhabha, JD, Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights, Harvard School of Public Health

 Ayse Parla, PhD, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Sabanci University



The application period is now closed.

Before applying, review the Admission and Policies and FAQs pages.

Students must be at least 18 years old and have completed at least one year of college or be a first-year student in good academic standing to apply.

The application materials, outlined below, are due January 30, 2014:

  • A completed online application that includes:
    • A $50 nonrefundable application fee
    • A statement of interest in the program, including information on relevant coursework and travel experience abroad (previous travel is not a prerequisite)
    • Transcripts (student record accepted for Harvard students)

Students are notified of admission decisions by late February.


There is a nonrefundable $50 application fee. The cost of the program is $7,500 and includes the following:

  • Tuition
  • Room and some meals
  • Excursions (including meals when appropriate)

In addition to the program fee, students are responsible for:

  • A health insurance fee (waived if students have US insurance that provides coverage outside the United States)
  • Transportation to and from Istanbul
  • The cost of passports and visas (if the latter is needed)
  • Any immunizations

The program director will advise students of likely additional expenses.

Suggested budget

See a sample budget for estimated expenses.

How to pay and funding options

See Payment and Funding for payment deadlines, deposit amounts, and more information, including funding options for Harvard College students.


Students live in undergraduate rooms on the Robert College campus located on the Bosphorus in Istanbul. Accommodations are simply furnished dorm rooms. Social spaces within the dorm are available for use. Breakfast and lunch are provided on campus.

Additional information

Jesse Howell, jhowell@fas.harvard.edu

Students with disabilities should contact the disability services coordinator as soon as possible. See Students with Disabilities for more information.


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