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When German Universities Were Models for American Universities

The New Yorker reviews Academic Charisma and the Origins of the Research University (, by William Clark, a historian who "has spent his academic career at both American and European universities. Clark thinks that the modern university, with its passion for research, prominent professors, and, yes, black crêpe, took shape in Germany in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. And he makes his case with analytic shrewdness, an exuberant love of archival anecdote, and a wry sense of humor." (HT: Chris, who blogs at Edit Copy.)

Likewise, Louis Menand's Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Metaphyisical Club: The Story of Ideas in America
(, describes how important German universities were in creating graduate studies in the United States. From Dialog International's review:
The first graduate school was established at Johns Hopkins University and was modeled after the University of Heidelberg. Nearly every serious scholar in America made a pilgrimage to the great universities at Heidelberg, Berlin, Leipzig and Goettingen. Of Stanford University's original 30 professors, 15 had received degrees in Germany and the school's unofficial motto which appears on its official seal is Die Luft der Freiheit weht ("the wind of freedom blows") - a quote from Ulrich von Hutten, a 16th-century humanist.


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Zyme on :

Again something off-topic, relating to trans-atlantic relations: Often I can read complains by americans about lacking cooperation of europeans in world-wide political issues - now I came across something which proves that a lack of cooperation can also be an american phenomenon. And this one might be very important for the long term development of our relations:,1518,443901,00.html It is about the coming cooperation of the european and russian space agencies to bundle their experience and become totally independent from america. While - according to this artice - the americans have denied any international cooperation in the development of their coming space vessels, the european and russian agencies will work together in response and might even include the japanese space agency in this technological alliance. America and China seem to prefer advancing into the space race isolated from the other nations. I cannot imagine that this won´t have a serious impact on the transatlantic relationship.

Don S on :

Yes. If you look at the great US universities whihc were established (or seriously reformed) between 1880 and 1910 - you see two things. The gothis architecture was often copied from Oxford and Cambridge - but the intellectual model was taken from German universities. The preeminence of German universities was unchallenged prior to WWI and they remained among the very best (though no longer unchallenged) until Hitler. My impression is that they remained quite rigorous (and good) until the student revolts of the 1960's but markedly declined then. Even so there is little doubt thta Germany's university system remains among the best in Europe today....

Mike Perry on :

I sadly quote: "America and China seem to prefer advancing into the space race isolated from the other nations. I cannot imagine that this won´t have a serious impact on the transatlantic relationship." How in fitting with the current, politically correct matra about an isolated US hated by all the world. All that was lacking was the customery dig at Bush & the Republicans. The facts are, of course, otherwise. The costly International Space Station is a joint affair, with the US and Russia the largest contributors. And planetary missions by any nation invariably involve NASA's Deep Space Network. Its 220-foot dishes were even able to extract some data from the misprogrammed European Jupiter-moon lander--roughly the equivalent of picking up a cell-phone at some 200 million miles. No, there's no isolationism in US science. More than every before, the Internet is creating a global scientific community. In medicine, there's no doubt that the U.S. modeled its medical schools on those in Germany and, until Nazism, someone who wanted to be a world-class physician almost always studied in Germany. At least as late as the 1930s, the Journal of the American Medical Association maintained a regular correspondent to report on developments in Germany. Nothing is so revealing of the change Hitler brought as comparing the JAMA articles just before he took power with those just after. It's quite clear that almost overnight their unnamed reporter no longer felt able to talk freely. --Michael W. Perry, Editor: Eugenics and Other Evils

Finlay on :

To my mind that is not surprising that European universities could be the model and exmple for American ones, because America is comaratevey a new state and Germany has a long history... it's obvious that in Europe they have more expirience in aducational sphere.

Jonas on :

For sure if the first uiversity was founded in Europe it should mean something. The history of the high education on the continenet is long and full of vivid events and outstanding people. So, really it's not so surprising that America has found some ideas and tradditions to borrow from the region.

Arjun on :

It's not a question why European universities has become the model for american ones, but it's interesting that particularly German, not french, italian, engkish ar whatever esle universities serve as an exmple... that's really surprising...

Panya on :

This report doesn't surprise me in term that US wants some universities in Europe to be their model. However, why German? Why not England?

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