An intellectual history

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.

importance were Adolf von Harnack and Eduard Spranger.12 In 1900, Harnack published a monumental history of the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences, which celebrated its bicentenary at the time. In his discussion of the early nineteenth century, Harnack foregrounded Humboldt’s memorandum and emphasised its epochmaking nature. Not least, he argued that Humboldt had stressed the fact that there should be a close connection between universities and academies.13 In addition, a few years later, the recently discovered text also provided Harnack with arguments in favour of

in Humboldt and the modern German university

–2008), vol. v (2006). Several older works that are still referred to in studies contribute to the image of Humboldt without being actual biographies: Eduard Spranger, Wilhelm von Humboldt und die Humanitätsidee (Berlin, 1909); Siegfried A. Kaehler, Wilhelm von Humboldt und der Staat: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte deutscher Lebensgestaltung um 1800 (Munich, 1927); and Clemens Menze, Die Bildungsreform Wilhelm von Humboldts (Hanover, 1975). For Humboldt as a linguist, see James Turner, Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities (Princeton, 2014), pp. 134–36. In

in Humboldt and the modern German university

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

openness to everything connected with science and scholarship, art, and music, he remembered. Eduard Spranger, the philosopher and educationalist, praised the students he met in the late 1940s. They were the most earnest and dedicated he had ever known.3 The university was one of the first societal institutions that were allowed to resume their activities after the surrender of Nazi Germany in May 1945. Much had changed, however. In a very tangible sense, the outcome of the Second World War had transformed the academic terrain. The loss of the eastern territories meant

in Humboldt and the modern German university
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the conviction that a wholeness of knowledge creates harmony.63 Generally speaking, Schelsky was not afraid to relativise Humboldt’s role as a fundamental innovator. For instance, he repeatedly cited Einheit von Forschung und Lehre as a key principle. But in the historical parts of his book he emphasised that it was in Schelling, 62  Naturally there have been prominent experts on the German university tradition whose knowledge and broad outlook could well measure up to Schelsky’s, from Max Lenz and Eduard Spranger to Heinz-Elmar Tenorth and Sylvia Paletschek. Like

in Humboldt and the modern German university