this is a counter part to my other question: What led to the fall of Göttingen?.

Göttingen was a major university in which many famous physicists and mathematicians lived. It was located in Germany, almost in the middle of nowhere to my understanding. So what led to its rise, why did anyone even decide to go there in the first place, the earliest piece of history on it I could find was the Göttingen Seven which was somewhat irrelevant. So who was the first major professor there, and why did the university become so prevalent.

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    $\begingroup$ besides Gauss? (who actually was director of the Astronomy Observatory, but nonetheless was a driving force beneath the university) $\endgroup$ – mau Dec 16 '14 at 10:38
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    $\begingroup$ @mau perhaps you should expand that comment into an answer! $\endgroup$ – Danu Dec 16 '14 at 22:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Danu: I do not know enough to be completely sure of what I wrote, so I thought that a comment would have been the best option. $\endgroup$ – mau Dec 17 '14 at 12:30

The university, of course, has a page on its history.

The university was founded in 1734 by George II - yes, the king of great Britain; he was of the House of Hanover, after all - although it was first run by Minister Gerlach Adolph Baron of Münchhausen. While the first lectures took place in 1734, the university did not properly open until 1737. From the start, Münchhausen wanted it to be a place of high standing. Here are the first true intellectuals he brought:

  • Albrecht von Haller, physician, natural scientist, and poet (in Göttingen 1736–1756)
  • Johann David Michaelis, theologist and orientalist (in Göttingen 1746–1791)
  • Christian Gottlob Heyne, archaeologist and library director (in Göttingen 1763–1812)
  • Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, physicist, philosopher, and writer (in Göttingen 1770–1799)
  • August Ludwig von Schlözer, publisher and historian (in Göttingen 1769–1809)

As you can see, these guys predate the Göttingen Seven by quite a lot!

To add to the university's prestige, it retained a close relationship with The Göttingen Academy of Sciences, founded in 1751. Together, the institutions made Göttingen a renowned center for learning. The university continued to be famous by attracting many great thinkers, among them Benjamin Franklin and Carl Friedrich Gauss.

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    $\begingroup$ Why the downvote? The answer answers the question from the most reliable source there is! $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Dec 17 '14 at 23:42
  • $\begingroup$ Should we really assume that a person or institution is the most reliable source for their own history? Perhaps it's ok in this case, though. (+1) $\endgroup$ – Michael E2 Apr 3 '16 at 15:29

As it always happens with the great scientific centers, it is a combination of several factors. Money. People (usually governments, sometimes private people) who are willing to spend this money to establish and maintain a scientific center. And their ability to hire the best available people. And to create a good environment for them. And a long period of development in the conditions of prevailing peace and prosperity.

In the case of Gottingen, it was founded by King George II (of England) who also happened to be the "elector" of the land of Hannover. (This part of Germany belonged to the British crown for long time, I suppose until the unification of Germany). King George and his descendants supported the university with the explicit goal to "promote the ideas of academic freedom and enlightenment". So probably this was the best such place in Germany before the unification. The other German rulers before the unification probably had less money and/or were less willing to spend it on science.

They managed to get people like Lichtenberg, Schopenhauer, Heine and Grimm brothers, not speaking of Gauss. Gauss spent there most of his long life, so probably he liked the conditions there:-) Consult the Wikipedia for a long list of famous people who worked and studied there.

When you have a person like Gauss for a long time, this makes the place even more attractive, both to the best students and best researchers. So in the next generation they had Riemann and Dirichlet....

Bismark who was a student there, later unified Germany. And I think he was also interested in maintaining the place.


"Göttingen, famous for its university and its sausages…" as the poet Heinrich Heine put it. Göttingen was apparently the first university in Germany that abolished the right of the Theological Faculty to “supervise” the other branches of the university. In this sense it anticipated the secularisation of German universities, championed half a century later by Humboldt in Berlin (and later still by Bentham at University College London).

  • $\begingroup$ While your answer is interesting I find that it is somewhat incomplete, it has almost nothing to do with the notable staff and students. $\endgroup$ – tox123 Dec 19 '14 at 0:33
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting observation. Was this an important factor in its growth? $\endgroup$ – Faheem Mitha Feb 21 '15 at 15:53

As to your question "why did the university [at Göttingen] become so prevalent":

The answer is surely "Felix Klein". A dynamic, versatile, and brilliant mathematician, he was also a talented organizer and administrator. The list of first-rate mathematicians he brought to Göttingen is probably too long to fit within the allowable limits of a SE answer; some details can be found at wiki. As editor he similarly transformed Mathematische Annalen into a leading journal.


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