Wilhelm von Humboldt and his idea
in Humboldt and the modern German university

This chapter discusses the ideas of Wilhelm von Humboldt and the establishment of the Berlin university. Following a brief interlude in Berlin, Humboldt functioned as a Prussian diplomat at the Holy See in 1802-08. During sixteen productive months, from February 1809 to June 1810, he would leave a deep impression on the educational system. Humboldt's efforts were initially focused on breathing life into and reforming the Prussian school system. In 1809, he sent the official letter to the Prussian king Frederick William III about establishing a new university in Berlin. The King approved the proposal. Humboldt was as much a practically disposed as a theoretically orientated man, and his idea about Bildung emerges most concretely in the proposals, memoranda, and drafts that he wrote during his years as a Prussian minister. Next to Bildung, the idea of science and scholarship (Wissenschaft) was a cornerstone in Humboldt's conception of the university.

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