The Universities and Research

Academies and Seminars

Jesuit schools organized groups of students, called “academies,” for the purpose of undertaking special exercises related to their studies. Private societies for the study of classical languages and the sciences were organized at Halle and other German universities during the eighteenth century [1]. These societies included students, teachers, and outside members. Members were encouraged to present papers and to participate in related discussions. One of these societies at Halle, the Seminarium Praeceptorum, for advanced training in the humanities, was perhaps the first such organization to receive state funding, for the purpose of supporting poor students dedicated to a career in teaching.

A new university was founded in 1734 at Gottingen, Hanover by George II, King of England and Elector of Hanover in Germany, in order to compete with Halle in rival Prussia.  The foundation was entrusted to the prime minister of Hanover, Gerlach Adolf von Munchhausen, who had studied at Halle. Aiming to attract students from other German states, Munchhausen established the practice of selecting professors on the basis of their reputation derived from their publications [2]: "It is necessary that if the new academy should excel, its chairs must be entrusted only to the most famous and qualified men [3].” The new university soon excelled in the fields of law, philosophy and classical languages.  In 1739, a leading scholarly journal began to be published at Gottingen, which became an important catalyst for research [4]. 

A philology seminar founded at Gottingen in 1738 provided an influential model for what would become an state institution: “As public institutes, such seminars conducted themselves not as intramural corporate and collegiate bodies, but rather as ministerial agencies or agencies of the modern state [5]." The seminar directors were generally appointed by the king or a high minister.

University Research

Wilhelm von Humboldt, a distinguished linguist, was appointed Prussian Minister of Education between 1808 and 1810.   Humboldt had studied at Gottingen, and he articulated the philosophy behind the German research universities: “It is a further characteristic of advanced institutions of knowledge that they always regard knowledge as a problem not yet solved and thus always remain in [a state of] research.” He also described what has become the role of the graduate student: “The university instructor is no longer the teacher, and the student no longer the taught; the latter researches, and the professor guides it [6]."

A parallel and supporting process was the development of university research libraries. Again Gottingen set the standard. Opened in 1737, the well-catalogued Gottingen library emphasized material to support research instead of rare manuscripts, and it became the largest academic library of its time [7].

Scientific Research

Funding for scientific seminars was initially very limited. An important breakthrough in funded scientific research was the work of Carl Friedrich Gauss at Gottingen. From 1807 to 1855, Gauss was a professor of mathematics with an interest in astronomy and electromagnetism. A new observatory was built for his research. Other significant seminars for scientific research were established and funded by the state at Bonn, Halle, and Konigsberg during the first half of the nineteenth century [8], causing the scientific lead to shift from Britain to Germany.

The poor showing of Britain as compared with Germany in the Great International Exhibition in Paris in 1867 motivated state funding of scientific research at British universities. In the United States, the Johns Hopkins university was founded in 1876, based on the model of the German research university, and the universities of Chicago, Harvard and Columbia were also influenced to begin to offer graduate training and research during the 1880’s [9].

[1] William Clark, Academic Charisma and the Origins of the Research University, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2006), 157.

[2] Richard R. Nelson, National Innovation Systems: A Comparative Analysis, (New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 1993), 117.

[3] Thomas Albert Howard, Protestant Theology and the making of the Modern German University (New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2006), 107.

[4] William Clark, Academic Charisma and the Origins of the Research University  (Chicago: University of Chicago Press: 2006),  113.

[5] Ibid., 159-160.

[6] Ibid., 444-445.

[7] Ibid., 316-321.

[8] Ibid., 447.

[9] Ibid., 458-463.