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The end of what is believed to be the “traditional” Roman Empire gave rise in the Holy Roman Empire and a drastic drop in the literacy of citizens in Europe. In the late 8th Century there were those such as Charlemagne and Alcuin who started to create cathedral and abbey schools in an effort to educate people in Europe. These schools educated future priests of the church so that in the very least priests would be able to properly read and convey the message of the bible to their congregation. This was a huge progression from what education had been before with nearly no one in Europe being educated except a select few individuals. Eventually these cathedral and abbey schools would give rise to the first Universities in Europe, changing the dynamics of civilization. These Universities would be in decline until the University of Gottingen would lead a revival of Universities in Germany.

Education in the Holy Roman Empire was mostly non-existent and the educational system that was in place in ancient Greece and the Roman Empire was no longer standing. The Greeks placed a large emphasis on a well rounded education that included all seven liberal arts of the trivium and the quadrivium. These schools that were dedicated to teaching the liberal arts were the very early foundations of universities but were not yet universities due to the fact that they were missing key components. The Greeks educated youths so that they would be competent members of society. Each citizen was to be ready to take a role in the government by appearing at assemblies. The Greeks were different in their culture than from the other surrounding areas, such as Egypt and Babylon, in that they stressed the idea that citizens were to be well rounded intellectually, physically and artistically. The Egyptians and Babylonians believed in only educating the wealthy, upper class for scribal duties with no emphasis on arts or physical education. The Greeks shaped the men of the state physically through gymnastics, artistically through music and intellectually through reading, writing, arithmetic, literature and philosophy. We see in Greek history many institutes coming around to provide the education needed as a citizen, one of the most famous being Plato’s Academy. This academy would be considered the first university and would influence other schools and later on, universities. Rome used the same methods of education as the Greeks but adjusted it some to fit the needs of its culture. The main focus the Romans had was legal studies because of the significance it had on society. In Rome used mainly the Greeks educational system minus the research the Greeks performed. Greeks spent a long time researching and gathering information and placing the results into written texts where the Romans would then use those texts for their education but would not add any of their own work (Pedersen 6, 7, 27).

Universities were first started in Europe toward the end of the Dark Ages, known as the Middle Ages. The early Universities only included the children of the rich citizens but due to large amounts of people being killed by the plague, Universities started to allow anyone with money to attend. Most education up to this point had been scholastic and was focused on Greek works or theology. The church controlled most of the education that was administered to the people because most schools were in cathedrals or monasteries. The sole purpose of education was to have literate priests to convey God’s message to the peasants and to train civil servants. Education was present in some towns to teach grammar to the upper class. The cathedral schools were to teach the higher education curriculum set down by Charlemagne and Alcuin of York. The school set up in the palace of Charlemagne by Alcuin would be the foundation that later Universities would be based off of. The intention of early schools was to train students to be a priest or some other profession in the church. When attending the early schools students would receive an education that emphasized on the trivium: grammar, logic and rhetoric. Schools throughout the middle ages would teach solely on the trivium through a scholastic setting based on some Geek literature and the Bible.

Universities were originally controlled and funded by the church of the Holy Roman Empire but after the split in the papacy in 1378 C.E. the Universities remained neutral. With the split in the church and the wars that raged in Europe people looked to the Universities for stability being no longer able to rely on the church. Universities did not want to lose support from at least one church and thus being the end of the school. The split in the church was a result of the king of France not approving of the Italian Pope and had a French Pope elected; this is referred to as The Great Schism. Each church stated that if anyone support the other church they would be disavowed.

The rise of German Universities was led by the Protestant Reformation. The Holy Roman Empire was falling apart and people were losing faith in the corrupt church. Martin Luther led the way to further advances in the Universities in Germany with his ninety five theses on the church door in 1517. Later he wrote three tracts that attacked the papacy, the corruption in the church and the argument of faith of good works. He was banned from the country and it was then that he worked on translating the New Testament. After Martin Luther’s theses, which disagreed with the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church the religious unity in Germany would be destroyed within a few decades. Luther is considered to be the initiator of the Protestant Reformation. He gathered large amounts of followers due to his simplistic idea about religion being a close relationship of humans with God without the mediation of the church. Later on the ideas of Martin Luther would become the foundation for the Lutheran denomination. Soon all the imperial cities became Lutheran despite their emperor opposing it and trying to keep the country Catholic, they were insubordinate to the emperor who was not for the idea and resisted it violently. This resistance to Lutheranism caused The Peasants War of 1524-25 when many peasants’ rose up and rebelled against the authorities. This revolt was quickly suppressed due to the overwhelming odds against them and the pleading of Martin Luther to be more worried about eternal salvation than practical affairs. With the peasant compliance to the authorities Germany later on integrated church and state. Despite the attempts of Charles V, the emperor of Habsburg, to restore the unity of the German Empire by means of Roman Catholicism the Protestant religion remained relevant (Solsten 16-22).

The Thirty Years’ War was a result of a local rebellion but soon caused all of Europe to be in conflict. With all of Europe at war all areas had their own interests; the French did not like how powerful the Habsburg dynasty was, the Emperor of Germany wanted the unity of Germany under the Roman Catholic Church with the help of the Catholic League and the Protestants wanted religious freedoms (Solsten 22, 24). Conflicts like these pushed men to send their children to college to get a higher education and if they didn’t believe in the policy of their government they sent their kids to other countries to receive their education. This was easy to do because universities had a universal language, Latin.

Despite the suffering of intellectual life after the conflicts between the empire and the Papacy there was a large surge in intellectual resurrection. With a large expansion of trade and commerce there came a high demand of educated people. These rising professions were requiring mental training that could not be met any longer by the teachings in the cathedral or abbey schools.

Through the sponsorship of the church there came Universities that became the main carriers of practical and theoretical knowledge. The first University in Germany was in Prague in 1348 by Emperor Charles IV, which was followed by sixteen others by 1506. Students flocked to these Universities from all over Europe being attracted by the reputation of a University. Students were unhindered by language barriers due to Latin being the universal language of higher learning. Masters and students were gathered into their respective nations based on countries of origin and these “nations” together were to make up the University. The materials that these Universities had were extremely primitive; they had no campus, lecture halls, libraries or laboratories. Professors would usually teach out of their own homes or possibly in a rented hall. Until the 15th century students used wax tablets to write their notes. Universities used the quadrivium and the trivium as the framework for their curriculum but less emphasis was given to grammar and rhetoric and more emphasis was placed on metaphysics and logic. Many subjects were still without texts and proper research was not allowed and so students relied on the literature of the ancient Greeks (Reinhardt 137-140).

Two Universities would lead the way to the rehabilitation of academic standing of German Universities; the University of Halle and the University of Gottingen. Gottingen would later become the cradle of modern science and scholarship. Gottingen’s faculty built one of the finest libraries in the world, which would later be the key to the survival of the University (Reinhardt 441).

The University of Gottingen was founded in the 18th Century in the year 1737. The University was created at the end of the protestant reformation led by Martin Luther and the conclusion of a series of religious wars between France and Britain. Also this university was on the rise in the midst of the Age of Enlightened Absolutism and French Invasion in 1792. Gottingen was founded chiefly through the efforts of a Hanoverian official, Adolf von Munchhausen (Holborn 296). With many connections in England the University of Gottingen became a channel for English influences in Germany. Gottingen was the least orthodox and was the most academically thought provoking University in Germany and also was a leader in the social sciences (Gagliardo 195). The Universities unusually well endowed library enhanced its charm to those wishing to attend a center of higher learning. Gottingen played a large role in retrieving ancient classical literature that had been neglected or thrown out at other Universities in other parts of Europe.

At the start of the University of Gottingen there was set in place a new practice of academic freedom. Gottingen became the first institution that would stop teaching in Latin and also stop with the supervision of theologians over the university. At Gottingen professors were offered the first idea of tenure. They were able to publish what they wished to and give lectures on what they desired without being censored or fired without an inquiry. This academic freedom would benefit the studies in law and politics and would also attract young noblemen from all over Europe to study at Gottingen for its intellectually free atmosphere (Holborn 479). These freedoms also drew in a large number of teachers and became a focal point for the enlightenment in Germany (Flenley 82). Gottingen along with a few other universities would pull students from almost all of Germany with its active role in the “general revival of thought in the eighteenth century and had been the homes of the so-called New Humanism with its worship of Greek culture...”

Along with the intellectual revival, the universities played a large role in the war against Napoleon (Flenley 144). The main studies performed at Gottingen were and are still to this day mainly sciences. Gottingen performed research and academic studies on the various sciences such as physics and chemistry. In just the first decade Gottingen was open it gained popularity fast due to the sciences being free from censorship from the church and because it allowed researchers to publish what they wished. Academia was of the upmost importance at Gottingen. Other universities in Europe kept their research and teachings separate whereas Gottingen had them feed off of each other which made it quickly stand out above other universities. From 1886 to 1933 Gottingen became the international centre for the natural sciences and saw five scientists win the Nobel Prize for their work at the university. Despite the tragic events during World War II the university survived and was permitted to continue operations in 1945 (Bohme).

The University of Gottingen has produced many famous scientists from Nobel Prize recipients to physicists to biologists. People like Karl Lohmann who discovered ATP, energy the body produces, attended the University of Gottingen. Some other people include Robert Oppenheimer who headed the Manhattan Project, Pascual Jordan who is the founder of Quantum Mechanics, Carl Friedrich Gauss who is considered the greatest German mathematician, Otto von Bismark was the Unifier of Germany, and Enrico Fermi was a physicist who ran the first controlled nuclear chain reaction. These names may be unfamiliar to many but they led the way for many other scientists and researchers in their field. These few people listed and many others who attended Gottingen would make advances that would affect the world of academia forever (## Luckily Gottingen was such a well recognized institution and was so highly thought of that it was not destroyed during any of the wars that raged in Europe (Mutz).

With the advances that Gottingen made science and education would be changed forever. Gottingen gave freedom to professors and students so they could pursue whatever areas of academics they wished. By the University of Gottingen giving freedoms to researchers to publish and lecture without fear of censorship the university would lead the way to educational revival in Germany and all of Europe.



University of Gottingen; Revival of German Universities


Page Author: Alexander Rumann

Sunday, 4 March, 2012 19:02



Pedersen, Olaf. The First Universities. Cambridge University Press, 1997. 6,7,27. Print.

Solsten, Eric. Germany: A Country Study. 3rd ed. 1996.

Gagliardo, John. Germany under the Old Regime, 1600-1790. Longman Group UK, 1991. Print.

Reinhardt, Kurt F. Germany 2000 Years. The Bruce Publishing Company, 1950. 137-140, 441. Print.

"University of Gottingen." NNDB tracking the entire world(2011): n.pag. Web. 10 Feb 2012.

Flenley, Ralph. Modern German History. 4th ed. London: J. M. Dent & Sons LTD, 1953. Print.

Holborn, Hajo. A History of Modern Germany 1648-1840. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1964. Print.

Bohme, Ernst. "History of the University-an overview."Georg-August-Universitat Gottingen. n. page. Web. 20 Feb. 2012.–-an-overview/90607.html.

Mutz, Katharina. "Gottingen: A university with a city." Study in Germany. n. page. Web. 20 Feb. 2012.



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