About Universities

Universities are the sacred halls of education and knowledge. Here the critical spirit should be trained and the freedom of thought should be upheld. They provide space for intense research and teachings that can change the world.

The beginnings in the Middle Ages

The first university in Europe was founded in Bologna around 1088, followed by Paris in 1257. Since the sources are not clear, it is not absolutely clear which of the two universities is now the oldest in the world.

In Paris, the church was behind the founding of the university. From the papal point of view, the university center of European theology should be established in the Seine metropolis. In Bologna it was free masters who gathered other students around them and set up a teaching establishment that was not very institutionalized at the beginning. Assemblies and examinations first took place in monasteries and churches.

Already in the Middle Ages, the universities received the synonym “Alma mater”, in German: “kind mother” or “nourishing mother”. The universities should – according to the image – be the nurturing mother that feeds the students with knowledge. But until the students were blessed with higher orders, they usually first attended a preparatory class.

The lectures consisted of the linguistically oriented trivium with the subjects grammar, dialectics and rhetoric and the mathematically oriented quadrivium, consisting of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music.

In further studies, the students could study medicine, law or theology. Above all subjects, however, was philosophy, divided into the sub-disciplines of metaphysics, natural and moral philosophy. Latin was taught because the national languages ​​were frowned upon. During the lecture, the master dictated texts to his students, as there were few books in the Middle Ages.

Lectures and exercises began early in the morning and continued throughout the day. The life of the students took place mainly between the university and the dormitory, the burse. Pretty much everything was forbidden in the common rooms, above all: noise, arguments and dice games. But despite the harsh customs, there were enough days off when the students were boisterous and enjoyed their studies.

Early modern times: the state universities

Since the early modern period, the sovereign, and no longer the church, took control of the university. Humanism, confessionalization and later the Enlightenment changed the thinking of the epoch and thus also the subject structure at the university. The printing press accelerated the dissemination of university knowledge, textbooks were now available in large numbers.

Many new state universities were founded, such as the Albertina in Königsberg or the Philipps University in Marburg. With the foundations, the noble sovereigns pursued the goal of training civil servants and lawyers, who were urgently needed for the administration of the territories.

The university succeeded in developing a new social milieu by awarding degrees and titles. The academics who climbed the career ladder in the administrations and bureaucracies came very close to the status of the birth nobility, according to the motto: Science ennobles.

Very early on, the universities competed with each other and poached students. The best example is Leipzig University, which benefited from a nationality conflict at Prague’s famous Charles University : in Prague, Saxon, Polish and Bavarian students and professors protested against Charles University’s internal regulation that only Bohemian university members were allowed to appoint the rector.

Frederick the Quarrelsome, Margrave of Meissen, had correctly assessed the vehemence of the conflict between the national groups and took advantage of the moment. He attracted non-Bohemian students, masters and professors to his university in Leipzig, which was newly founded in 1409.

The 19th Century: Humanities versus Natural Sciences?

At the beginning of the 19th century Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835) reformed the Prussian universities. He was concerned with the unity of research and teaching, the freedom of science and the “uniting function” of the philosophical faculties.

The Prussian educational reformer adhered to an idealistic concept of knowledge: people should be educated through science beyond all considerations of utility. According to the reformer, this is particularly possible in discussions between professors and students.

The seminar became the trademark of the Humboldt University. According to the Prussian government ideas, the universities should also be expanded into educational institutes in order to produce reliable civil servants and politicians.

In the course of progressive industrialization at the end of the 19th century, the importance of industrial and technical knowledge increased significantly. At the same time, nationalized universities emerged, which were responsible for the training of teachers and technical professions. The faculties were divided into natural sciences, humanities, political science and economics.

In medicine and natural sciences, the students received practical training in laboratories. The newly founded technical colleges and commercial colleges were increasingly under pressure to convey technically and economically useful knowledge. In addition to the academic degrees Magister and Doctor, state degrees and diplomas prevailed.

At the turn of the 20th century, the natural sciences experienced a boom. Research into radioactivity brought chemistry a high reputation. Robert Koch revolutionized medical knowledge with the discovery of the tuberculosis and cholera pathogens, and Albert Einstein took physics into a new dimension with his theory of relativity .

From then on, the natural sciences supplanted the humanities in public attention. The schooling of knowledge in the natural sciences was and is in contrast to “Humboldt’s ideal of education”.

20th Century: Students go to the barricades

In 1968 the students shook the hitherto peaceful university life and the authority of the professors. As part of an international reformist awakening, the student movement, starting from Berkeley via Paris, also reached Berlin and Frankfurt.

The German generation of 1968 rebelled against the crimes of National Socialism, which their parents’ generation had hushed up, and uncovered the unresolved involvement of significant parts of German science in the Hitler era. According to the students, the traditions established by the Third Reich had to be broken in order to achieve scientific and social progress.

The most famous banner of the student movement was unveiled in 1967 during the handing over of the rectorate at the University of Hamburg: “Under the gowns Muff of 1000 years”. The canon of subjects at the universities also changed in the course of the student disputes. The social sciences, above all sociology and social philosophy, became fashionable and shaped academic debates at universities.

U.S. Colleges and Universities