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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.

Open Access (free)
Johan Östling

Hochschulreform (Frankfurt am Main, 2010), pp. 11–12; Mitchell G. Ash, ‘Humboldt the Undead: Multiple Uses of “Humboldt” and His “Death” in the “Bologna” Era’, in The Humboldtian Tradition, ed. by Josephson, Thomas Karlsohn, & Östling, p. 85. Parts of this chapter are based on Östling, ‘Humboldts idé’; Johan Östling, ‘Universitetets historia: Humboldttraditionen som akademiskt historiemedvetande’, in Historiens hemvist: Etik, politik och historikerns ansvar, ed. by Patricia Lorenzoni & Ulla Manns (Göteborg, 2016); and Johan Östling, ‘Universitetets moderna tid’, in Tiden

in Humboldt and the modern German university
Johan Östling

investigation into the history of the university. Within both these fields there are, in addition, a number of concepts and methods that can lend stringency and stability to the analysis. However, before I explain in greater detail what this means, the subject matter of my research needs to be introduced. The history of the Humboldtian tradition The aim of this study is to create a historical understanding of the Humboldtian tradition and its varying meanings during the modern era. One key task is to investigate the significance of the classic university model (more or less

in Humboldt and the modern German university
Open Access (free)
Johan Östling

of these studies, however, was the primary focus the importance of the Humboldtian tradition or even the fundamental reflections on the ideal university in this particular period. That is not to say that there are no attempts at interpretation. One opinion is that there was a prevalent Humboldtian ideal which 13  Rohstock, Von der ‘Ordinarienuniversität’, p. 415. See, however, Uwe Rohwedder, ‘SDS-Hochschuldenkschrift und VDS-Neugründungsgutachten’, in Hochschulreformen früher und heute: Zwischen Autonomie und gesellschaftlichem Gestaltungsanspruch, ed. by Rainer

in Humboldt and the modern German university
Johan Östling

nation had a future, it was not as a political great power but as an intellectual one. In their present situation, the Germans were – with an echo 1  Wolfgang Schivelbusch, Vor dem Vorhang: Das geistige Berlin 1945–1948 (Munich, 1995); Jörg Echternkamp, Nach dem Krieg: Alltagsnot, Neuorientierung und die Last der Vergangenheit 1945–1949 (Zürich, 2003). Parts of this chapter build upon earlier texts of mine: Johan Östling, ‘The Regeneration of the University: Karl Jaspers and the Humboldtian Tradition in the Wake of the Second World War’, in The Humboldtian Tradition

in Humboldt and the modern German university
Johan Östling

, Das deutsche Bildungswesen in seiner geschichtlichen Entwicklung (Leipzig, 1906). See also Josephson, Karlsohn, & Östling, ‘The Humboldtian Tradition’, pp. 3–7. 21  Lenz, Geschichte. 22  Irmgard Kawohl, Wilhelm von Humboldt in der Kritik des 20. Jahrhunderts (Ratingen, 1969), pp. 11–34. 60 Humboldt and the modern German university Over the course of a decade and a half, from Gebhardt’s discovery in the archives to Spranger’s and Harnack’s eulogies around 1910, an image of Wilhelm von Humboldt as the progenitor of the modern German university was created. Sylvia

in Humboldt and the modern German university
Johan Östling

, Protestant Theology, pp. 80–81. See also the discussion in Josephson, Karlsohn, & Östling, ‘Humboldtian Tradition’, pp. 3–7. Sections of this chapter have previously been published as Johan Östling, ‘Humboldts idé: Bildning och universitet i det moderna Tyskland’, in Humaniora i kunskapssamhället: En nordisk debattbok, ed. by Jesper Eckhart Larsen & Martin Wiklund (Malmö, 2012); Johan Östling, ‘The Humboldtian Tradition: The German University Transformed, 1800–1945’, in University Jubilees and University History at the Beginning of the 21st Century, ed. by Dhondt; Johan

in Humboldt and the modern German university