Presented by Penn's Department of History
Founded in 1810 Berlin, the modern university was a design innovation: an institution that combined the dissemination of knowledge through teaching with its advancement through research. This bundle inspired an American adaptation that merged the German version with the English undergraduate college to produce a hybrid that would be emulated the world over. But it was never preordained that American higher education would end up this way. In fact, almost as soon as it was founded there were simultaneous cries that it was entrenched and that it was inefficient—a contradiction that persists to this day. Is the modern research university, like a narrow gauge railroad, an antiquated artifact on which an earlier era standardized for reasons that no longer apply? Or is it an example of Chesterton’s fence, an inheritance whose full value is not understood until it is lost? Understanding the university’s origins will help us shape its future.
Cosponsored by Penn's Graduate School of Education, Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, and Wolf Humanities Center.
Dr. Emily J. Levine is Associate Professor of Education and (by courtesy) History at Stanford University. She is the author of Allies and Rivals: German-American Exchange and the Rise of the Modern Research University (University of Chicago Press, 2021), and Dreamland of Humanists: Warburg, Cassirer, Panofsky, and the Hamburg School (University of Chicago Press, 2013), which was awarded the Herbert Baxter Adams Prize by the American Historical Association.