Schiller figure in front of sky

History of the University

How the university developed over the centuries.
Schiller figure in front of sky
Image: Jan-Peter Kasper (University of Jena)
  • Tradition and modern times

    The University was founded as an academic grammar school ('Hohe Schule') in 1548 by John Frederick I, Elector of Saxony. The sovereign, also affectionately called "Hanfried" by the people of Jena, was thus the "first" friend and patron of the University. In 1558, the future Emperor Ferdinand I raised Jenas "Hohe Schule" to the status of a university—with a ceremonial inauguration on 2 February.

    In the second half of the 17th century, the ideas of the early Enlightenment allowed the University of Jena, also called Salana, to flourish for the first time. E. Weigel and J. F. Buddeus, who were known as universal scholars throughout Europe, worked here.

    The University of Jena reached a second heyday around 1800. It became the centre of classical German philosophy with professors such as J. G. Fichte, C. L. Reinhold, F. W. Schelling, G. W. F. Hegel and J. F. Fries. For decades, the Salana was also closely connected with J. W. v. Goethe through his official activity. The most famous professor at that time, however, was F. Schiller, who gave his inaugural lecture in Jena on 26 May 1789 and has been the namesake of the Salana since 1934.

  • Science and industrialization

    Since the second half of the 19th century, the Friedrich Schiller University Jena has been known mainly through the collaboration of E. Abbe, C. Zeiss and O. Schott, and it became the epitome of a productive symbiosis between science, technology, and industry.

    The modern counterparts of this development can be found in the research programmes of, for example, physics, materials science, or the innovative surgical methods in medicine. Here, too, the University of Jena strives to convert established traditions into modern research strategies.

  • Light and shadow

    With its political upheavals, the 20th century cast light and shadow on the development of the University. Great scientific discoveries were in strong contrast to the instrumentalization of science and teaching for war and oppression. On the one hand, racial ideas had already been established at the University of Jena in the 1920s—a process which continued in the worst possible way in the Third Reich through the work of Nazi professors H. F. K. Günther and K. Astel. On the other hand, representatives of the university, such as J. Schaxel, joined the reform wing for the restructuring of higher education. Among the victims of the Nazi regime are university members who were politically persecuted (e.g. H. Leisegang, A. Siemsen) as well as those who suffered from exclusion and Nazi racial politics (e.g. W. Peters, E. Klein).

    After 1945, the alma mater was once again caught up in the whirlwind of political and ideological confrontations. It was now to be restructured—at the latest since the end of the 1950s—into a ‘socialist university’. Despite this development, there were outstanding scientists and thoroughly critical spirits among the students and university teachers in Jena at that time, who were in subversive resistance against arbitrariness and dictatorship. Thus Jena was considered a dissident stronghold in the GDR. J. Fuchs, R. Jahn and L. Rathenow studied here, among others.

  • Transition and reform

    Nowhere could the constraints put on intellectual freedom be felt more pressing than at the University. That is why students and professors demonstrated together on the streets in 1989. Since then, the Friedrich Schiller University Jena has had a considerable reform record. The former sections developed into ten faculties, which correspond to the profile of a classical comprehensive university. To date, 195 new or reformed study programmes have been established.

    Initially, the aim was offer a range of courses similar to other universities of comparable size. Today, the main aim is to sharpen the University of Jena's own profile.