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Harvard Summer Program in Zagreb and Vis, Croatia

The unique history and geography of Croatia is the ideal location to study the complex nature of borders and boundaries in today's world.

  • Program Director

    David Elmer

  • Program Coordinators

    Petra Taylor (Resident Director)

  • Date

    May 20, 2024 to July 13, 2024

  • Apply By

    January 25, 2024

  • Cost


  • Housing

    Apartments and hotels

About the Program

The Harvard Summer School Program in Croatia takes boundaries—both political and natural—as its central theme. This theme arises from the unique history and geography of the settings for your studies: Zagreb, the capital and political center of Croatia, and Vis, the most distant and isolated of the major islands in Croatia’s Adriatic archipelago. Situated at the historical intersection of world empires and riven by a dramatic geography of discontinuity (Croatia’s islands are in fact the summits of a sunken mountain range), Croatia is the ideal place to reflect on issues that are now more relevant than ever. If the last decades of the twentieth century were a time when walls were coming down and borders seemed to be growing ever less significant, now the pendulum is swinging in the other direction: borders are hardening, differences seem magnified, and walls are going up.

Borders are two-sided, in more ways than one. A border is a point of contact that enables movement and exchange as much as it obstructs them. But it is also a cut, a sometimes violent and potentially traumatic intervention in a physical or cultural landscape. Borders divide us, but they are also where we meet. A border can be a defensive structure or a prison (or both)—or it can be a challenge and invitation to undertake the radical gesture of reaching across the divide.

Program Structure

This eight-week program is divided into two four-week courses in comparative literature, each closely linked to its geographical setting.

Part I of the program takes place on the island of Vis. An exploration of the island’s physical geography in relation to its history is the starting point for examinations of natural boundaries and their representations in literature and film. The program will focus on the ‘island’ as a powerful figure for reflection on human experience at various scales.

In Part II, the focus shifts to political and cultural boundaries. The program considers a variety of topics suggested by the history of the region (e.g. imperialism, nationalism, borders, refugees) with a view to their contemporary relevance. These topics are approached through a range of literary, philosophical, and cinematic texts, most of which are drawn from writers and filmmakers from the region. The island of Vis again provides the starting point, as the program examine the overlayered traces of the many cultures and political formations (Greeks, Romans, Illyrians, and Croats; Venetian, British, and Austrian empires) that have exerted control over the island. The program then moves to Sarajevo, which we examine as a site of both horrific violence and intense cooperation between groups. Part II and the program as a whole end in Zagreb, capital of Croatia, using the history of this city, country, and region as a springboard for reflections on political difference.

This program counts as two semester-long courses (4 credits each) of degree credit.

COMP S-108 Study Abroad in Zagreb and Vis, Croatia: Cultural Geographies of Political Difference

David F. Elmer, PhD, Professor of the Classics, Harvard University

Bonnie Talbert, PhD, Lecturer on Social Studies and Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies for Freshmen and Sophomores in Social Studies, Harvard University

Petra Taylor, PhD, Executive Director and Professor of Literature and Culture, European Center for the Study of War and Peace, Zagreb, Croatia

4 credits
UN Limited enrollment.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s it was commonly thought that the expansion and further integration of the European Union (EU) would resolve the tensions arising from the breakup of Yugoslavia. From today’s vantage point, such thinking can only seem naive. Indeed, viewed in retrospect, the dissolution of Yugoslavia now seems to have prefigured many of the trends that today threaten to fracture the EU, and that seem to define, to a large extent, the global situation. These trends include the triumph of nationalism over more inclusive narratives, the hardening of borders, the instrumentalization of displaced persons as political weapons, and the demonization of disfavored minorities. This course explores these and other themes through a variety of literary, philosophical, and cinematic texts. Our point of departure is the conflicts that have dominated the Balkan region in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, but discussions are guided by an awareness of the timeliness and global relevance of our themes.

Prerequisite: none.

COMP S-110 Study Abroad in Zagreb and Vis, Croatia: Islandologies—Cultural Geography, Rhetoric, and Literature

Petra Taylor, PhD, Executive Director and Professor of Literature and Culture, European Center for the Study of War and Peace, Zagreb, Croatia

4 credits
UN Limited enrollment.

This course takes place on the beautiful Island of Vis in the Adriatic Sea. A place of its own and also a piece of the mainland, our island provides an introduction to the study of Earth’s islands in general and of Earth itself as an island in space. The course centers on the interaction between humans and the natural environment, including islands in Canada, Sweden, South Korea, Spain, and Croatia. Subjects include islands that are nowhere (Shakespeare’s Tempest and More’s Utopia), individual human isolation (Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe) and connectedness (Donne’s “No man is an island”), early science fiction (Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels), and travel in space capsules. Theoretical texts include writing by Plato and Sloterdijk, who focus on beaches, as well as Ellen Semple, the geographer. Movies include This Island Earth (1955). There the study of such small islands as Vis comes to interact with the largest questions about human community.

Prerequisite: none.

Where You'll Live and Study

The island of Vis, widely considered one of the “jewels of the Adriatic,” is renowned for its well-preserved natural beauty, and is a prime location for hiking, swimming, and other outdoor activities. You will live and take classes in the historic town of Vis, on Vis. Classes in Zagreb are held at the European Center for the Study of War and Peace (ECSWP), and at the Culture Center Pavilion on the island of Vis.

The city of Zagreb has all the conveniences and amenities of a major European city, and the ECSWP provides a number of additional facilities, including library and lounge spaces, as well as a dining room where lunch will be served after daily classes.


In both Zagreb and Vis, you will live in fully furnished apartments in the downtown district conveniently located within 5 minutes’ walking distance from where classes are held. Apartments include fully-equipped kitchens, wifi, air conditioning, and laundry facilities. During excursions, including for your week in Sarajevo, you will be housed in local boutique hotels.

On Vis, students and faculty will have three community meals after class at a local restaurant, Nona Darinka. On some weeks (week 1 and 3), two meals will be served at Nona Darinka and the third meal will be connected to an event. For other meals, students will have the opportunity to cook in their apartments. Students will receive the schedule of meals in advance. In Zagreb, students and faculty will have a common lunch in the ECSWP dining room immediately after class. For other meals, students will have the opportunity to cook in their apartments. Some dinners will also be provided in town, following events or for special occasions.


To apply, you must:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Have completed at least one year of college or be a first-year student
  • Be in good academic standing

Students enrolled at any accredited university are welcome to apply. See the How to Apply page for more information.

The Summer 2024 application is now closed. All admissions decisions will be released on March 1.

Each program has unique requirements included in the online application. Beginning your application early is the best way to ensure that you have sufficient time to review and complete the application requirements by the deadline.

You may apply to no more than two programs; if applying to two programs, you will be asked to rank your two applications in order of preference (first and second choice). Any applications submitted in excess of the maximum of two will be automatically withdrawn. You will be notified of your admissions status in each program in early March.

A complete online application includes:

  • Basic personal information
  • A statement of interest
  • Your most recent transcript
  • Program-specific requirements (if applicable; may include letters of recommendation, etc.)

Interviews may be requested at the discretion of the program.

Be sure to read about the funding options available for Harvard Summer School Study Abroad programs.

If you have questions about the application, please contact the Harvard Summer School Study Abroad Office by email at

Cost & Expenses

Additional Information