An intellectual history
Author: Johan Östling

In the twenty-first century, intense debates concerning the university have flared up in Germany. An underlying factor is the general feeling that the country's once so excellent universities have been irredeemably left behind. This book anchors the current debate about the university in the past by exploring the history and varying meanings of the tradition of Wilhelm von Humboldt. It first provides a history of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the history and content of the Humboldtian tradition. Humboldt was involved in Greek antiquity, theory of education, Prussian educational system, and comparative linguistics. If, in spite of this versatility, a comprehensive idea, his Lebensthema, is to be found, it would have to be human beings and their Education. The book discusses the contributions of Adolf von Harnack and Eduard Spranger who emphasised Humboldt as a prominent figure in German university history. It focuses on three of the most influential figures in the post-war debate on the university: philosopher Karl Jaspers, historian Gerhard Ritter, and Germanic philologist Werner Richter. The 150th anniversary celebrations of the university in 1960 saw the eastern Berlin academia claiming to be the bearers of the true Humboldtian spirit and the west demonstrating itself as taking over Humboldt's original idea. The years following 2000 saw most European countries realising university reforms without any notable opposition, but in Germany the Bologna process gave rise to heated discussions in the public sphere.

Johan Östling

’s greatness, and the Prussian state has the duty to ensure the preservation of both’, maintained the influential church historian and research politician Adolf von Harnack.6 But not everyone was carried away by enthusiasm during the years leading up to the ‘Great War’. Quite a few observers had a sense of an internal, constantly growing crisis for the university. The representatives of the humanities and theology, die Geisteswissenschaften, were particularly troubled. The increasing specialisation not only overthrew the conviction concerning the unity of science

in Humboldt and the modern German university
Johan Östling

of reference. But at the turn of the twentieth century, Humboldt was suddenly discovered. His manifesto about the university was published and became famous when the Berlin university celebrated its centenary in 1910. At the same time, influential educational politicians and pedagogues such as Adolf von Harnack and Eduard Spranger disseminated his ideas.21 Mitchell G. Ash, Rüdiger vom Bruch, Sylvia Paletschek, Walter Rüegg, and other leading representatives of the new research agree: 21  The most important contributions to this new research are Walter Rüegg, ‘Der

in Humboldt and the modern German university
Johan Östling

Intellectual Institutions in Berlin’, trans. by Edward Shils, Minerva, 8:2 (1970), 242–50. The different suggestions – presented by Adolf von Harnack, Eduard Spranger, Bruno Gebhardt, and others – on how this text is to be dated are discussed in Ulrich Herrmann, Markus Bok, & Günter Erdmann, ‘Kommentare und Anmerkungen: Band IV’, in Wilhelm von Humboldt, Werke in fünf Bänden, ed. by Flitner & Giel, vol. V: Kleine Schriften, Autobiographisches, Dichtungen, Briefe, Kommentare und Anmerkungen zu Band I–V, Anhang (1981), pp. 556–57, without there being a final established

in Humboldt and the modern German university