History, Department of


Date of this Version



2017 Author(s)


Isis Dec 2017, Volume 108, Issue 4, pp. 930 - 931


Charles McClelland has long been one of the leading scholars of German universities and professionalism in Germany. His State, Society, and University in Germany, 1700–1914 (Cambridge, 1980), for example, is a fundamental introductory work for anyone wishing to understand the structure, growth, and development of the German universities during this period.

To help celebrate its bicentennial (2010), the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (to use the University of Berlin’s official name since 1949) commissioned a six-volume history, of which McClelland was the co-author of Volume 1, running from 1810 to 1918 and published in German. The work under review is an augmented, English-language version of that volume. That fact perhaps helps explain why the book is so expensive. To say the very least, it far surpasses the forty pages devoted to the period 1870–1910 in the standard history of the university by Max Lenz (4 vols., 1910).

The University of Berlin unexpectedly began life in 1810 as the “Berliner Universität” and as compensation for Prussia’s loss of Halle during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1828 it was renamed the Friedrich- Wilhelms-Universität, retaining that name until 1949. Located in the heart of Berlin (on Unter den Linden), during its first half-century its facilities left much to be desired and its faculty, before midcentury, was of mixed scientific distinction. It was largely in the 1860s, as Berlin became a “big” city and as Prussia took on economic and political heft, that the university, located cheek by jowl with the monarchical court, governmental headquarters (including the educational ministry), and military command, emerged as a national and, soon, international research center. Indeed, my only critique of McClelland’s study concerns its muddled, misleading title, “the Mother of All Research Universities.” As is well known, and as McClelland himself eventually points out (but only en passant), it was Halle and Göttingen in the mid-eighteenth century that first promoted research as a central feature of the university. Besides, the advancement of research at the German universities stemmed not from anyone institution but, rather, from a gradually forming system of research-oriented universities. Nonetheless, in the imperial period Berlin most definitely became an outstanding research university and, for some, a model of its kind. That point is beyond dispute.

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