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 - February 2018

The Transatlantic Kindergarten - Education and Women's Movements in Germany and the United States

Ann Taylor Allen
© Oxford University Press

The kindergarten—as institution, as educational philosophy, and as social reform movement—is certainly among the most important contributions of Germany to the world. At first, however, Germany proved an inhospitable environment for this new institution, which was founded by the educator and philosopher Friedrich Fröbel around 1840. After the failure of the 1848 Revolutions, several German governments banned the kindergarten, alleging that it was a hotbed of subversion. German revolutionaries who were forced into exile introduced the kindergarten to America. Conservative governments considered the kindergarten subversive because of its links to the era's movements for women's rights. In an era when convention limited middle-class women to the domestic sphere, the kindergarten provided them with a rare opportunity, not only for professional work, but also for involvement in social reform in the fields of education, child welfare, and urban reform. Through three generations, American and German women established many kinds of contacts-personal friendships, institutional affiliations, international organizations. Many of these women and their activities are still little known to history.

Ann Taylor Allen presents the first transnational history of the kindergarten as it developed in both Germany and America between 1840 and 1919. This story shows how transnational connections shaped and influenced national cultures. Based on a large body of unused or underused source material, found in numerous archives, libraries, and personal collections in both the United States and Germany, The Transatlantic Kindergarten's comparative analysis shows how a common body of ideas and practices adapted over time to two very different national environments. The issues raised in the nineteenth century are still important in the present. The provision of public preschool education-an aim first developed by nineteenth-century kindergartners-is still an unfinished and much discussed project in both the United States and Germany.