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Working paper

Wilhelm von Humboldt and Berlin University: a New Look at the Origin of the Humboldt Myth

This article traces the origins of the Humboldt myth. It challenges the established view that the myth arose during the celebrations of the centenary of Berlin University in 1910, demonstrating that this view is not confirmed by sources. First, the article examines the speeches delivered by the participants in the 1910 jubilee celebrations and concludes that they could not have provided the basis for the Humboldt myth because they mention Humboldt no more frequently than the names of other prominent scientists, and the brief assessments of his activities are too vague to warrant judgments about his contribution to the development of higher education. Second, the article analyzes the works of German philosophers and educators of the early twentieth century and stresses that the sources of the Humboldt myth go back mainly to works written before 1910, had nothing to do with the centenary of Berlin University and were influenced by Humboldt’s note On the Internal and External Organization of the Higher Scientific Institutions in Berlin published in 1903. The article concludes that the traditional view of the origin of the Humboldt myth needs to be re-examined: the myth was born before 1910 and the centenary of Berlin University was only one channel for asserting and spreading it.