Humboldt’s University: The History and Topicality of a German Tradition

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This chapter discusses the history of the modern German university and the topicality of Wilhelm von Humboldt’s ideas. A key issue is how the Humboldtian tradition, with its origin in Prussia around the year 1800, was transformed and has informed debates about research, higher education and academic freedom ever since. Drawing on recent scholarship, this chapter investigates the ways in which Humboldt’s ideas have been appropriated for various purposes in different historical contexts and epochs: in the emergence of the research university in the German Empire in the late nineteenth century; in the period of reconstruction in the aftermath of the Second World War; in the rise of the mass university in the Federal Republic of the 1960s; and in the discussions about the Bologna Process in the early 2000s. The principal conclusion is that Humboldtian ideals have not been static nor could they be as historical circumstances are always in flux. Nevertheless, many of the key concepts and fundamental ideas that we term Humboldtianism have not actually changed but have been interpreted differently.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMissions of Universities
Subtitle of host publicationPast, Present, Future
EditorsLars Engwall
Place of PublicationCham
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-41834-2
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-41833-5
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Jun 15

Publication series

NameHigher Education Dynamics
ISSN (Electronic)1571-0378

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • History
  • Other Social Sciences not elsewhere specified


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