History of Celtic Studies at Harvard



Fred N. Robinson

The study of Celtic languages and literatures was introduced to Harvard in 1896 by Fred Norris Robinson. A native of Lawrence, Massachusetts, Robinson earned his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D in English Philology at Harvard. He spent two post-doctoral years in Freiburg, Germany, studying the emerging discipline of Celtic philology under the great Swiss scholar, Rudolf Thurneysen. He returned to Harvard as an instructor in 1896, and throughout his long career here offered courses in Irish language and literature as well as in medieval English language and literature, his principal field. When Robinson died in 1966, he left to Harvard his important collection of books dealing with every aspect of Celtic studies, which became the core of the collection of the Fred Norris Robinson Celtic Seminar Library. He endowed Harvard as well with a chair – the Margaret Brooks Robinson Professorship of Celtic Languages and Literatures, named in memory of his wife.

DunnCharles Dunn


Harvard’s first professorship in Celtic had been established earlier, through a gift made by Henry Lee Shattuck, a distinguished Boston attorney and politician, and devoted son of Harvard. He later wrote of his desire that “something more be done at Harvard in bringing to the attention of the American public Gaelic art and literature and language...” 1 Shattuck made his gift through the Charitable Irish Society of Boston in 1940, one year after Robinson retired, and so ensured the continuity of Celtic studies at Harvard. The Department of Celtic Languages and Literatures was established, and has flourished ever since.It was under the leadership of Charles Dunn, chairman from 1962 until his retirement in 1984, that the department really began to grow into what it is today. The young men and women who came to study with him and with his associate,

John KelleherJohn Kelleher

John V. Kelleher, went on to establish Celtic studies as a respected constituent of literature departments in colleges and universities throughout North America, and to found the Celtic Studies Association of North America. In addition to Dunn and Kelleher, professors in the department have included world-renowned Celticists Kenneth H. Jackson, Vernam Hull, and Patrick K. Ford. Among the Visiting Professors have been Angela Bourke, William Gillies, Máire Herbert, Jerry Hunter, Proinsias MacCana, Brian Ó Cuív, and J.E. Caerwyn Williams.


1quoted in John T. Galvin, The Gentleman Mr. Shattuck: A Biography of Henry Lee Shattuck, 1879-1971 (Boston, 1996), p. 286.