University of Hamburg
The University of Hamburg is one of the younger German universities. Its establishment is documented not in a provincial foundation charter, but in a sober official announcement of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg on April 1, 1919. The roots of the university, however, reach back to the beginning of the 17th century. In 1613 an intermediate level of education between school and university (Akademisches Gymnasium) was founded. For two semesters general lectures were offered to students before they turned to their special studies.
Due to the low number of participants, this institution had to be closed in 1883; what remained was a general lecture series (Allgemeines Vorlesungswesen) which was reorganized in 1895. For this purpose the businessman Edmund Siemers donated the lecture building situated on the street which was later named for him. Dedicated to research, teaching and education, the building serves today as the “Main Building” of the university. In addition to public lectures for laymen, further education courses for certain professions were also offered, for example for theological candidates, for administrative officials, customs officials, practical physicians, businessmen, pharmacists and teachers. Some statistics vouch for the significance of this organization of lectures: In the winter semester of 1913/14 300 courses were offered by 207 instructors. 4300 course catalogues were sold in this semester.
In the 19th century, a number of additional institutes developed: the Botanical Garden (1821), the Observatory (1833), the Chemical State Laboratory (1878), the Physical State Laboratory (1885), the Laboratory of Plant Raw Products (1885), the Institute of Ship and Tropical Diseases (1900). After the “Akademische Gymnasium” was closed, the directors of these “scientific institutions” continued offering public lectures. Together with the lecturers appointed for the general lecture series, they formed a “convention of professors” in 1892. The establishment of the Hamburg Scientific Foundation in 1907 and the Colonial Institute in 1908 were two important further steps toward a university. The Foundation was involved in recruiting scholars and supporting research expeditions and scientific publications. The Institute prepared colonial service candidates for their work abroad. The Colonial Institute’s “Central Office” was the documentation and information center for the world overseas; the Hamburg World Economis Archives became its successor.
Although at the beginning of the 20th century Werner von Melle, as senator and later as mayor, considered it his life’s work to bring these institutions together to form a university, this plan failed in the city parliament. The majority was in favor of having Hamburg limited to its dominating role as a trade city and shied away from the expense of establishing a university and the social expectations of its professors. On the initiative of individuals “university courses” were instituted for returning soldiers after World War I. It wasn’t until then that the democratically elected city parliament with its new majority passed a resolution to establish a “Hamburgian University” in its first sessions. It’s opening was celebrated on Mai 10, 1919 in the Hamburg Musik Hall. The unique honor of “rector magnificus honoris causa” was conferred upon Werner von Melle in 1921.
During the time of the Weimar Republic the young university quickly acquired international standing in a number of disciplines due to its outstanding scholars. The close ties to institutions such as Aby Warburg’s “Cultural Studies Library” or Ablrecht Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s “Institute of Foreign Policy” established new forms and content of interdisciplinary cooperation. The National Socialist dictatorship destroyed this short flourish, primarily by forcing the firing of around fifty scholars and scientists, among them the most eminent at the university. Some, such as the psychologist William Stern, the philosopher Ernst Cassirer and the physical chemist Otto Stern, are memorialized in busts and plaques as are the student members of the Hamburger branch of the “White Rose” who gave their lives in the resistance against the wrongful regime.
First, four faculties were created: Law and Political Science, Medicine, Philosophy, Natural Sciences. The prerequisites for establishing the Faculty of Medicine existed in the well-equipped hospital in Eppendorf which, during the time of the great cholera epidemic at the end of the 19th century, had earned a good reputation even beyond Hamburg’ borders. The number of faculties at the university, which reopened in November of 1945 as the “University of Hamburg”, increased to six in 1954 with the creation of a Faculty of Protestant Theology and the separation of Economic and Social Sciences from the Faculty of Law.
On April 25, 1969 the city parliament of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg established a new university law. The most visible expression of the reform set down in it was the strengthening of the academic self-administration, the participation of all university members in decision-making at three levels (Council and Senate, faculty councils, institute councils) and in the creation of the position of a president who would, in a balanced system, represent externally the autonomy of the university in science and research and internally the interests of the state which has financial and legal responsibility for the university.
In 1969 the six faculties were divided into fifteen. Meanwhile, the number has increased to eighteen faculties. In addition, there are five so-called Senate Institutions, eight interdisciplinary courses of study and four joint university courses of study. On January 1, 1979 the University Law of 1969 was replaced by the Hamburg University Law which adapted state law to the Framework Act for Higher Education. Now, unlike before, professors have the absolute majority in all self-administrative committees that make decisions about studies, research and appointments.
In 1919 there were 1729 students at the university. At the beginning of the 50s, the number rose to about 600, in 1960 to 12,600 and in 1970 to 19,200. At present almost 40,000 students, among them 2200 foreign students, are registered. From the end of the 50s to the middle of the 60s, the campus in Von-Melle-Park near the Außenalster in the heart of the city expanded. A number of additional buildings were built in 1974 and 1975, such as the “Geomatikum” for the Faculties of Mathematics and Earth Sciences which, with its 22 stories, towers over the houses of the Eimsbüttel region of Hamburg. Further institutes of the university are located in other regions: the University Clinic in Eppendorf, the new Botanical Garden and the Institute for General Botany in Flottbek, the Institute of Hydrobiology and Fisheries Science in Altona near the harbor and Elbe, the Observatory in Bergedorf and several Physics Institutes in Bahrenfeld where the world-renowned German Electron Synchrotron (DESY) is situated. Since 1991 the Faculty of Informatics has been located in Stellingen (Informatikum).
Since the beginning of the 80s the University of Hamburg has been directing its attention in a variety of ways toward its own history. There have been numerous publications by its members, principally in the series edited by the university: “Hamburg’s Contributions to the History of Science”, Dietrich Reimer Publishers (Berlin and Hamburg). Since 1993 the focus of these efforts has been in the “Hamburg Library of University History” in the Faculty of Philosophy and History.