Map of medieval universities in Europe.
The University of Greifswald was founded on 17 October 1456 with the approval of the Holy Roman Empire and the Pope. This was possible due to the great commitment of Greifswald's lord mayor, Heinrich Rubenow, who was also to become the university's first rector, with the support of Duke Wartislaw IX of Pomerania and Bishop Henning Iven of the local St Nicolas' Cathedral. The founding took place in the local cathedral, which was later remodeled by Caspar David Friedrich and his brother and can still be visited today. The founding of the university was made possible by a decree that restricted teaching activity at the University of Rostock (founded 1419). Several professors left Rostock for Greifswald to continue their work there, where Heinrich Rubenow took the chance of establishing his own university. Originally, the university consisted of the four traditional divisions: Theology, Philosophy, Medicine and Law.
In the late Middle Ages the University of Greifswald was one of the most important centers of science in the Duchy of Pomerania. The rest of Pomeranian schools - including these in Szczecin and Stargard - did not have the university status in this time. Nowadays in Germany, there are only three older universities by count of the years of existence: the University of Heidelberg (established 1386), the University of Leipzig (1409), and the University of Rostock (1419).
International co-operation with other institutions of higher education in northern Europe existed already in the earliest years, sparked and accelerated by the transnational trading network Hanse. From 1456 until 1526, 476 Scandinavians were enrolled at Greifswald University and 22 faculty members as well as six rectors came from Scandinavia. This was a relatively high percentage compared to the total number of students at the time. Sources suggest a relatively segregated life of Swedish students in the primarily German university though.
The early sixteenth century saw significant co-operation of the university, the Lutheran church, the city and the Duchy of Pomerania. Professors of theology simultaneously served as pastors in the three cathedrals. Professors of medicine usually served as personal physicians of the duke. Professors of law were also working at the local courts while professors of the faculty of philosophy usually taught the sons and daughters of the ducal family. The landed nobility also funded university-related purposes such as scholarships and student bursaries.
The Reformation was introduced at the university in 1539. Johannes Bugenhagen, an alumnus of the university, was an important figure during the German and Scandinavian reformation as well as a good friend of Martin Luther. After the secularisation of the monastery at Eldena near Greifswald, Duke Philipp I of Pomerania gave all revenue created by the now secularised Amt Eldena to the university. His successor, Duke Ernst Ludwig, began the construction of a college building, which could only be completed after his death. Duke Philipp Julius presented the university a gown that was used by the rector on ceremonial occasions up until very recently.
In 1604, the Greifswald University Library became the first centralised university library in Germany. The university signed a contract with a book printer from Wittenberg, Germany, for the amount of 2,000 Gulden. This contract lasted nearly a century due to the disruption caused by the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648). Hence, the university now owns prestigious early prints of authors and printers such as Johannes Gutenberg or Thomas Thorild. The phrase cuius regio, eius religio as applied to the outcome of the Protestant Reformation is attributed to the early seventeenth century jurist Joachim Stephani (1544–1623) of the University of Greifswald.
The Duke of Pomerania was in financial troubles and had not paid the professors. As a solution, he gave the Amt Eldena to the university – a total of 140 square kilometres of land.
After the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 the western part of Pomerania, including Greifswald and its university, became a fief held by Sweden. 1806–1815 it was formally a part of Sweden. Without entirely losing its character as a German university, it was heavily influenced by Swedish educational policies until 1815. Especially during the second half of the eighteenth century Greifswald was a cultural and scientific bridge between Germany and Sweden. More than 1,500 Swedes studied at Greifswald University.
The first university course in the English language in Germany was held in Greifswald in the year 1777.
The main administrative building – still in use today – was built during the "good old Swedish years" by Andreas Mayer, a mathematician by profession, in the style of North German Baroque.
The renowned Romanticist painter Caspar David Friedrich
immortalised the city in several of his paintings, e.g. Wiesen bei Greifswald
(English: 'meadows near Greifswald'; 1820–1822, oil on canvas).
(Rubenow Memorial) was erected in 1856 for celebration of the 400th anniversary of the university in honour of its founder and first rector, Heinrich Rubenow.
When Swedish Pomerania became part of the Kingdom of Prussia in 1815, the University of Greifswald became the oldest university on Prussian territory. Prussia recognised the potential of science and universities, thus extensive building activity and growing financial support enabled the University of Greifswald to grow further both in size and reputation.
In 1856, on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the university's founding, a monument was unveiled in the presence of King Frederick William IV of Prussia. The monument is still at its place, and was carefully restored for the 550th anniversary 2006.
The Faculty of Law became Faculty of Law and Economics when an economic department was introduced in 1905. In 1912, Otto Jaekel, a professor of paleontology in Greifswald, founded the German Paleontological Society. The Department of Modern Languages was established in 1853. To commemorate the 400th anniversary of the university 1456–1856, the "Rubenow-Denkmal" (Rubenow Memorial) was built in front of the main building, which is still there at its historic place. The Department of History was founded 1863 as the first in Prussia and the fourth in all of Germany. The painter Caspar David Friedrich was born in Greifswald and received his first painting instruction by one of the university's members. Today the Department of Fine Art and Art History is named after him. He later painted several oil paintings with motifs from the region, including the one on the left.
The spectrum of academic research and teaching was further expanded during the Weimar Republic. The Nordisches Institut (Scandinavian and Finno-Ugric studies) and several other research institutes, e.g. for biological research, Christian archeology, and Palestinian studies, were founded.
1933–1945: Nazi Germany
In 1933 the university was named after Ernst Moritz Arndt, who was a student of theology in 1791 and later taught history at Greifswald. Here, he published his works "Versuch einer Geschichte der Leibeigenschaft in Pommern und Rügen", "Germanien und Europa" as well as the first part of "Geist der Zeit". The name was suggested by SA and Nazi Party member professor Walther Glawe. The university was gleichschalted and reformed according to military needs of the Nazis.
University of Greifswald, Old Campus
The main building on 8 October 1956, a few days before the 500th anniversary celebrations of the university
All academic activities came to a halt towards the end of the Second World War, and the university was re-opened on 15 February 1946. The name of Ernst Moritz Arndt was initially removed but restored in 1954. Several organisational changes were made during the time of the GDR, most of which were revoked in the 1990s after the German Reunification.
Freedom of science as well as the autonomy and self-administration of the university were re-established. The Faculty of Law and Economics was re-opened from 1991 to 1993. Extensive renovation took place since 1990. The dinosaur Emausaurus was named after the acronym of the university (Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-Universität Greifswald) in 1990.
Beginning in 1999, the University of Greifswald was among the first in Germany to welcome and introduce the international Bachelor/Master degree system as proposed by the Bologna declaration. The new system has replaced all former 4.5 year "Magister" degrees in the arts and humanities and is set to replace the 4.5 year "Diplom" formerly awarded in the sciences and in business too.
In 2006, the university celebrated its 550th anniversary with a large variety of events. The central ceremony – involving the re-opening of the university's renovated administrative building by President Horst Köhler of Germany, Queen Silvia of Sweden, and Minister President Harald Ringstorff of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern – took place on 17 October 2006.
Since the end of the GDR the University of Greifswald has undergone major construction efforts. Between 1991 and 2007, more than 417 million euros were spent on the careful renovation of historic buildings, as well as on the construction of new sites. For instance, 19th century lecture hall ("auditorium maximum") has been carefully restored, just like the university's main administrative building and many other buildings in the historic center of town. A new campus for natural sciences (physics, chemistry, biochemistry), medicine, IT and mathematics is under construction in the eastern part of the city. The new domiciles of Greifswald University Library, the departments of physics, biology and biochemistry have already been completed. The university hospital, which is thought to be completed in 2009, will be the most up-to-date full-scale hospital in Germany, adding to the appeal of the Greifswald Medical School. As a consequence of the construction of the new Greifswald University Hospital building, all historic 19th and early 20th century buildings that were formerly used by the hospital will be transferred to house other disciplines, thus creating an old-town campus for such departments as law and economics, the humanities and social sciences, and improving research and teaching considerably. As one of only 17 out of a total of 52 proposed building projects of "national significance" across Germany, the national government has agreed to subsidise the construction of a new pharmacology research lab (in Germany, education is usually cared for by the German states and not by the national government, which only supports a few projects of national and international importance).
There have been frequent debates as to whether Arndt's name is desirable for the university or not, but attempts to change the university's name have often been rejected. The Nazi history of the University is being researched only now.
In January 2017 the Senate voted to stop the use of namesake Ernst Moritz Arndt in the official German name of the University (Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-Universität Greifswald) This decision was later declared void by the State of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern’s Ministry of Education, Science and Culture on formal grounds. On the 17 January 2018 the University of Greifswald's Senate voted in favour of a compromise in the dispute regarding the German name of the University. This compromise drops the use of Ernst Moritz Arndt in the university's official name, but the name can still be used subject to the provisions of an ordinance that must still be passed by the Reduced Senate.