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See detailInstitutionalisierung der Naturwissenschaften in Preußen als Investition in die Zukunft. Die Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Bonn und die Leopoldina (1818-1830)
Röther, Bastian UL

Doctoral thesis (2016)

Analysing the genesis of institutions of scientific research and information in Prussia using the university location of Bonn as an example 1818 – 1830 // The 19th century represented a profound turning ... [more ▼]

Analysing the genesis of institutions of scientific research and information in Prussia using the university location of Bonn as an example 1818 – 1830 // The 19th century represented a profound turning point in the development of the sciences that was characterized by an enormous surge in development and the emergence of modern scientific disciplines. In the natural sciences, this development was evident by their gradual emancipation from the medical faculty and an increasing differentiation and scientification of the curriculum. During this period of reform in the early 19th century, Prussia faced the task of reforming its traditional education system and transferring this to its provinces in the Rhineland and in Westphalia. These efforts to create an educational state centred around the Central University in Berlin, founded in 1810, the University of Breslau and, above all, Friedrich Wilhelm University, which was founded on the Rhine in 1818 and was one of Prussia’s most important provincial universities. The Imperial Leopoldina Carolina German Academy of Natural Scientists was simultaneously moved, creating conditions that were on par with Prussia’s capital. By 1818, Bonn had two important scientific institutions at its disposal, one of which had an explicit medical-scientific connotation. The institutional collaboration that arose between the academy and the university therefore promised to give the natural sciences an opportunity to receive special support as explicitly stipulated in the development concept drawn up for the university by the head of the department, Altenstein. The fact that the scientific academies fell within the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture appeared particularly auspicious. Altenstein’s concept of emancipation and promotion of the natural sciences included a high degree of integration of the applied sciences. One question that had received little attention was how this concentration of institutions impacted the development of the service and research institutions of the natural sciences and to what extent Berlin was able to model this tighter relationship between the institutions. Older papers have placed the development of the individual scientific subjects during this phase of the university’s foundation in a much more negative light, referring time and again to the way in which Bonn’s representatives of natural philosophy hampered this development. In contrast, more recent research findings recognize the tremendously important role the natural sciences played in the ministerial concept of 1818 and the resulting extensive and excellent conditions for these subjects which were modelled after Berlin. As a result, they represent a much more differentiated picture of the foundation years. A source-based and cross-subject study that also scrutinized the role of the Academy of Sciences Leopoldina remained a desideratum. Moving the academy has generally been regarded as extremely necessary for the further development of Bonn as a location of science; its collections and facilities signifying an important foundation for good institutional development. The basis of this paper was the official correspondence between Bonn’s scientists and Altenstein, the Prussian department head, as well as Prussia’s State Chancellor Hardenberg. It focuses on the key aspects of the analysis of appointment policy, organisation of the institutes, reform efforts and the relationship to extramural institutions. Of great importance is the exchange of letters, edited as part of a Leopoldina project, between Altenstein and the director of the botanical garden in Bonn, Christian Gottfried Nees von Esenbeck who, as president of the Leopoldina, was critically important. The analysis includes the facilities of these natural sciences at the university, e.g. the chemical laboratory and the observatory, as well as the collections and institutes for natural history subjects, like botany, zoology and minerology, and the Natural History Museum and the Botanical Gardens. Furthermore, the paper looks at the university’s relationship to societies organised outside the university, in particular the Leopoldina, as well as the Niederrheinischen Gesellschaft für Natur- und Heilkunde (Lower Rhine Society for Natural History and Medical Studies), which was founded in 1818, and Verein zur Beförderung der Naturstudien (the Society for Promoting the Study of Nature). Investigations have revealed that the culture minister’s ideals to broadly support the sciences and their practical application during the university’s phase of establishment extended far beyond the realm of financial possibilities. Nevertheless, it was possible to establish some excellently equipped institutes in Bonn. The already widely developed plans to incorporate practice-oriented education, however, could not be achieved in these initial years. These locational conditions, established on the basis of political and financial necessity, are reflected in the statistics on the frequency and attendance of lectures, analysed for the first time for the natural sciences in Bonn. Despite the formal separation of the natural sciences from the medical faculty, the physicians were integral to the success of the introductory lectures. On the other hand, from a statistical perspective, these special events are characterised by a high failure rate across all subjects due to a lack of participants. This particularly affected the lectures on natural philosophy which were accepted to a lesser degree by the students during the period under investigation. The general reproach, based on Justus Liebig’s philippic on “The State of Chemistry in Prussia” from 1840, that natural philosophy had hampered development, cannot be concretely substantiated for Bonn. Unlike in Berlin, which had better locational conditions, during these foundation years, Bonn lacked grammar school leavers and university freshmen who were prepared for studying the sciences and who could adequately take advantage of the good basic conditions established in Bonn. The complaints from the instructors in Bonn about the students’ low level of education quickly led to various reform projects that targeted grammar school education and which were almost entirely unknown to research. The Seminar für die gesammten Naturwissenschaften (Seminar of General Sciences), established in 1825 should be mentioned first and foremost. It was the first of its kind in Germany to teach natural sciences as part of a cross-discipline education. Surprisingly, moving the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina to Bonn played an insignificant role in the development of the scientific location. Conditions can hardly be compared to those in the capital. Ultimately the academy’s institutions proved to be insufficient in supporting the establishment of modern service institutes for the natural sciences. The locational advantage was not exploited in the scientific practice of the natural science and medical disciplines. Thanks to Prussian subsidies, the Leopoldina was able to weather an existential crisis at the end of the 19th century in Bonn. Profound structural reforms were postponed by the academy’s leadership indicating the society’s need to consolidate. With its only main task being the publishing of the journal Nova acta, the academy was punching far below its weight. Using Prussia’s provincial university in Bonn as an example, this paper reveals the extensive efforts made by the education reformers to provide an excellent institutional basis for the young scientific disciplines. The opportunities created in the years when the university was being established could only be utilised by a handful of students due to a lack of scientific schooling, particularly since a link to practical and scientific educational concepts could not be financed. The service institutions therefore remained a promise for a future based on scientific research and teaching that wasn’t to begin in Prussia’s Rhineland until the second half of the 19th century. [less ▲]

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