Center for German-American Educational History


The Center for German-American Educational History has been established in January 2014 at the Institut für Erziehungswissenschaft of the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster. Thus, for the first time a German academic institution is dedicated entirely to the exploration of the conditions and processes of transatlantic educational history – from its beginnings in the 17th century up to today. The Center’s research and teaching is focused on the wide scope and special quality of the multifaceted interrelationships between German and American pedagogues, school founders and education-policy makers from the colonial period up to the 21st century.

The Center’s policy of information provision, teaching and research is based on the premise that the development of the different systems of education in Germany and America has been marked by fruitful competition as well as mutual interaction and interference since the Early Modern Period. Both educational systems profit from the knowledge of their entangled and intertwined history. The awareness of a common history sharpens the sense of the fact that there exists indeed a transatlantic community with shared values even with regard to ideals of education – in theory and practice.

Franz von Fürstenberg - the prime minister and founder of the University of Münster (1773) - was in contact with German emigrants in Pennsylvania.
Franz von Fürstenberg - the prime minister and founder of the University of Münster (1773) - was in contact with German emigrants in Pennsylvania.
© IfE


The current ideals of education both in the United States and in Germany are derived from and related to a set of key values propagated in the Age of Enlightenment: Self-responsibility and autonomy of the citizen, religious toleration, individual rights of freedom and a broad general education available to all people as a sign of their human dignity. These values were first formulated in the 18th century as the predominant goals of modern self-education and self-government. They can be traced back to the American Constitution of 1787/88 and they can be detected in the Grundgesetz of 1949, the German post-war Constitution that came into being with the support of United States officials. This is why the Center’s research and teaching has a particular but by no means exclusive emphasis on the early phase of German-American educational history in the Age of Enlightenment.


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Book of the Month - June 2017

The Design of the University German, American, and “World Class”

Heinz-Dieter Meyer
© 2016 - Routledge

What is the reason for the American university’s global preeminence? How did the American university succeed where the development of the German university, from which it took so much, stalled? In this closely-argued book, Meyer suggests that the key to the American university’s success is its institutional design of self-government. Where other university systems are dependent on the patronage of state, church, or market, the American university is the first to achieve true autonomy, which it attained through an intricate system of engagements with societal actors and institutions that simultaneously act as amplifiers of its impact and as checks on the university’s ever-present corrosive tendencies.

Built on a searching analysis of the design thinking of Wilhelm von Humboldt and Adam Smith and closely tracing the learning process by which Americans adapted the German model, The Design of the University dismisses efforts to copy superficial features of the American university in order to achieve world-class rank. Calling attention to the design details of the university and the particulars of its institutional environment, this volume identifies the practices and choices that produced the gold standard for today’s world class higher education.

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