History of the university

A Look at the History of Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz

With the opening of the University of Mainz in 1477, the archbishop of Mainz, elector and arch-chancellor of the German nation, Diether von Isenburg, realized a dream of his predecessor. In doing so he was in line with the spirit of the times, as regional universities had already been founded by then in almost all of the larger territorial states. In addition to theology, medicine and church and Roman law, the seven "free arts" of grammar, rhetoric, dialectics, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music were taught.

Already Highly Renowned in the Year 1508

The University of Mainz developed well: In the first few decades, the number of students presumably rose to 200 and in 1508 the university was already highly renowned (Petrus Ravenna). However, as the repeated attempts at reform (1523, 1535 and 1541) reflect, it soon experienced its first crisis, which was caused above all by an inadequate economic foundation. In addition, the Reformation also left its mark on Mainz.

By opening a Jesuit college in 1561, the archbishop of Mainz was pursuing several goals: Comprehensive educational initiatives were intended to aid the Catholic Counterreformation and help renew and stabilize the university. The latter succeeded not only in terms of theology but also the area of medicine. In the end, there was even the need for a new building: Between 1615 and 1618 a special building was erected for the university, the domus universitatis, where the Journalistic Seminar and the Institute for European History are located today.

In Mainz, as elsewhere, the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) resulted in a significant decline in the number of students. When Swedish troops occupied the city, the members of the university abandoned the city and continued teaching "in exile," for example in Cologne. After the war, the university was slow to recover.

Secure Economic Foundation

Following the abolishment of the Jesuit order in 1773, the College of Mainz was disbanded that same year. This necessitated a renewed reform of the university and its bylaws: In 1781, the Mainz University fund was established, which for the first time created a secure economic foundation for the college. However, the expansion of the disciplines offered was also of great importance: Various areas of history were taught in a new faculty of historical statistics, as well as political science and statistics. The cameralistic faculty was also established, where, for example, applied mathematics, botany or veterinary treatment of livestock was taught. As before, the curriculum continued to include theology and medicine. This extensive offering attracted up to 700 students in the next few years. In this period, when the University of Mainz was shaped and determined by the Enlightenment, Georg Forster was active as the university librarian in Mainz – presumably one of the best-known Mainz scholars of the old university.

The French Revolution also left many traces in Mainz: In its wake, the first republic on German soil was founded in 1792. As a result of wars and unrest, as well as the conquest and recapture of the city, teaching at the University of Mainz finally ceased. The medical faculty held on to the end and awarded doctorates until 1818, but five years later the last lectures were held there as well.

Nevertheless, the Mainz University fund continued to exist, as did the Mainz "Accouchement," a school for midwives that was founded in 1784, thus preserving a little of the university tradition until 1946, when the university reopened. A seminary also continued to exist. In the meantime there were continual discussions about reestablishing the entire university-level teaching operation, but these plans regularly failed due to a lack of financing.

Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz

On May 15, 1946, the college resumed its teaching activities under the new name of "Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz." A total of 2,088 students were enrolled in the opening semester, and for the first time female students were also enrolled. Instruction in the natural sciences began in the winter semester of 1946/47, which led to the number of enrolled students to jump to 4,205. 

With this reopening, the French military government wished to make a contribution to educating Germans in a "new spirit" – also, the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, which they had founded, did not have a university at the time. The university was located in a former barracks, which enabled it to present itself as a campus university, but it was also somewhat distant from the center of town. In order to secure its integration into the lives of the citizens of Mainz, various institutes have been located in the center of town in the meantime and the university organizes many events there, such as lectures and the science fair (the first of which was held in 2002).

In the following decades the University of Mainz put in an almost uninterrupted course of growth: The general increase in the number of students also benefitted the university. It expanded its range of disciplines, thereby increasing its ability to attract students. The general course of studies, the international summer course and the numerous international partnerships (in addition to other aspects) are evidence of the goals that the citizens of Mainz and the French were equally pursuing by reopening the school. The role of theologians, the name of the university and many street names on campus, however, forge links to the "old" university. In this way, the Johannes Gutenberg University draws on many fine and honored traditions, which also signify an obligation that is set forth in its mission statement.