Summary of the History and Present Situation
The city of Giessen is located in the
German federal state of Hessen, about half an hour journey by car from
Frankfurt. Among the four universities of Hessen, the University of Giessen
comes second in many respects. Founded in 1607 by Landlord Ludwig V. of
Hessen-Darmstadt, it was named after him “Ludwigs-University” (Ludoviciana). It
is the second oldest, and with a number of 22,000 students today also the second
largest university in Hessen.
The University of Giessen belongs to the
old “Schools of Higher Learning” of the German-speaking territories. It derives
from the second Central European Movement of University Foundations (“Gründungszeitalter”),
the so-called “Post- Reformation Movement” that was initiated by the University
of Marburg (founded 1527). Marburg and Giessen are neighbour-universities and as
such they have to differ in terms of orientation. Nonetheless, they play
complementary roles in the intellectual life of the region.
Since Marburg became Calvinist after the
partition of Hessen, Giessen was set up as a Lutheran establishment. In the 17th
and 18th centuries, Giessen was a typical minor Protestant regional university.
It was made up of four faculties: theology, jurisprudence, medicine and
philosophy. At the end of the 18th century, a faculty of economics was
established. In the 19th century, the University of Giessen was considered to be
liberal, even modern. Until today it attempts to live up to this reputation.
Since 1736 the university bears in its
coat of arms a “T”-symbol, in blue and silver on a golden ground. This sign
represents the cross of the Antonites, a hospice-order, which owned a leading
monastery in the 13th century which was located close to Giessen. The monastery
enjoyed high respect and was considered to be one of the richest in Hessen. In
the 17th century, its real estates came to be part of the University of Giessen.
That is why the present Institute of Oriental Studies bears the old cross of the
Antonites in its seal.
Oriental languages and Oriental Studies
(“morgenländische Studien”) have a long history in Giessen. A chair of Oriental
languages was first established in 1670. The first to hold the chair was the
judaist, theologian and orientalist David Clodius (1644-1687). Henceforth, the
orientalists of Giessen put their interest in Oriental languages – as it was the
case at other universities – almost exclusively to the service of theology. This
did not change until 1833 when the chair was offered to Johann August Vullers
(1803-1881). Vullers had emerged from the school of Silvestre de Sacy
(1758-1838), the acknowledged founder of scientific Arabic Studies in Europe.
Vullers regarded Oriental Studies as a science of its own. He made it his task
to study culture and history of the peoples of the Orient (“morgenländische
Völker”) for their own sake. Vullers developed manifold teaching activities for
nearly half a century. His main interest was in Persian language and literature.
His best known work is the monumental Lexicon Persico-Latinum (II Vol. and Suppl.,
Giessae 1855-1867), an indispensable reference work to this day. The work was
photo-mechanically reprinted in 1962.
After Vullers’ death in 1881, the chair
remained vacant for 20 years, until it was transformed into a chair for Semitic
languages and was filled by Friedrich Zacharias Schwally. In 1909 and 1919
Schwally (1863-1919), a disciple of Theodor Noeldeke (1836-1930), published the
first two volumes of Noeldeke’s celebrated Geschichte des Korans in a completely
revised edition. He also contributed to the Berlin edition of the Tabaqat of Ibn
Sa‘d. His interests were mainly in the Arabic and Aramaic languages.
Another Semitic language, the Ethiopian,
was cultivated in Giessen at the faculty of theology and not at the faculty of
philosophy. We can even say that Ethiopian Studies in Germany were revived in
Giessen. This happened in the middle of the 19th century, 1864-69, due to the
efforts of August Dillmann (1823-94) who connected studies in the Old Testament
with Oriental Studies.
At the beginning of this century, the fields of research in
Oriental Studies were extended: Paul Ernst Kahle (1875-1964), a scholar with an
extensive knowledge, came to Giessen in 1914. His interests were mainly Hebrew,
Arabic and Ottoman Studies. In Hebrew he studied the history of the Hebrew text
of the Bible and its different systems of vocalization, in Arabic he wrote
treatises on the history of Egypt, Egyptian popular religion and on shadow play
(the latter was edited by Derek Hopwood in 1994). In Ottoman Studies, his
special interest was nautical literature. Among other things he rediscovered the
missing map of Columbus of 1498 in a Turkish map of the world of the year 1513.
Kahle was followed by Rudolf Strothmann (1877-1960) whose
main field of interest was the study of Muslim minorities and sects.
The broad development of Oriental Studies in Giessen was put
at a temporary halt in 1933. The then holder of the chair, Julius Lewy
(1895-1963), a distinguished expert on Accadian and the history of the Old
Orient – who worked, amongst other subjects, on the Cappadocian-Accadian clay
tablets of Kültepe – was expelled for “racial” reasons and had to emigrate.
Until the end of World War II Oriental Studies in Giessen was more or less
In summary, it may be said that during its first 160 years of
existence, 1670-1830, Oriental Studies in Giessen was not more than an auxiliary
science to the study of the Old Testament. A second step of developing Oriental
Studies started with Vullers whose era marked the beginning of a new perspective
in Oriental scholarship. The new generation “saw in the Oriental languages,
literatures and religions and in the history of the Orient objects whose
exploration should serve the general knowledge of the human culture”.
With “every new holder of the chair, a new course of research was developed”:
Persian, Ethiopian, general Semitics, Hebrew, Arabic, Accadian.
After World War II the third period of the history of
Oriental Studies at Giessen university began. At first, all academic subjects
were abolished in 1946 except for agriculture, veterinary medicine, the most
essential natural sciences and later human medicine. The old “Ludoviciana” was –
by request of the Allies – transformed into the “Justus-Liebig-University” at
which only these subjects were taught. It was only in 1957 that the full status
of the university was re-established. For almost twenty years then Oriental
Studies had not existed and it was not until 1964 that this discipline was
revitalised under a new name and with a new regional focus. It was called
“Seminar for the Languages and Cultures of North Africa”. “This part of Africa
was chosen because the University of Giessen made it its task to promote the
study of the tropical and subtropical countries”.
Therefore, the emphasis of research was on Africa. For Oriental Studies this
meant, however, an overlap of three fields of studies, namely Semitic Studies,
including language and culture of Christian Ethiopia, Islamic Studies and
African Studies. “The Giessen experiment should therefore facilitate new forms
of interdisciplinary collaboration in research and teaching, and this is
particularly manifest in the intellectual cooperation with the Institute for
Tropical Diseases and the Institute of Geography”.
So much for the theoretical concept, but putting this into
practice was much more difficult. After many years of trying to obtain a chair
for African Studies, the plan was finally given up in the seventies. African
Studies was then extended at another Hessian university. The Giessen seminar was
renamed “Institute for Oriental Studies”. As far as Semitic Studies is
concerned, particular attention has been devoted to South Semitic languages
(North Arabic, South Arabic, Ethiopian Semitic languages) in Giessen until 1992.
The neighboring university at Marburg, on the other hand, has concentrated
largely on North Semitic languages. Within Islamic Studies, Marburg University
focuses on the region of Iran, so that Giessen is able to place its emphasis on
Turkish Studies. The section for Turkish Studies cooperates with the larger
section for East European Studies. The cooperation with Marburg University
includes “the exchange of library catalogues and lending services between the
two seminars as well as a mutual exchange of language teachers”.
The third phase of the history of the Giessen Institute for
Oriental Studies is closely connected with the name of Ewald Wagner. Wagner
(born August 8, 1927) was offered a chair at Justus-Liebig-University in 1964,
the year the seminar was founded. He occupied the chair up to 1992. Wagner's
research focuses on one aspect of classical Arabic, i.e. the history of Arabic
literature during the Abbasid period - his edition of the poetry of Abu Nuwas
(Wiesbaden, 1958) is internationally renowned as is also his work on classical
Arabic poetry (Darmstadt, 1987/88). Within the framework of cataloguing Oriental
manuscripts in Germany, Wagner is working on Arabic manuscripts from Ethiopia
and he was head of the project “Cataloguing Arabic Manuscripts” which was seated
in Giessen up to 1996. From 1997 onwards the whole project is to be continued at
the University of Jena (Thüringen) since there had been no manuscripts to be
found in Giessen itself. The same applies to the cataloguing of Old-Turkic (Old-Uiguric)
manuscripts. All of the Old-Turkic material to be catalogued is kept in Berlin.
Since 1992 when the head of the project “Cataloguing Old-Turkic Manuscripts”,
Klaus Röhrborn, left Giessen, this project is to be found in Göttingen and
Let us return to teaching at the Institute for Oriental
Studies in Giessen. Arabic was introduced in 1978 as a minor course of study in
the “Modern Languages Programme” which combines modern European and Arabic
languages with economic subjects. With this innovative programme, the university
hopes to enrich the job market through the combination of business
administration, culture studies and foreign languages, and to work against all
forms of eurocentrism. A similar approach was applied 1984 when Turkish was
included as a minor subject in the supplementary post-graduate programme “German
as a foreign language”. Thus the way has gradually been paved in Giessen for
Oriental research devoted to the present-day as well as to the conventional
philological and literary studies in these areas.
When Angelika Hartmann (born December 3, 1944) from the
Department of Near Eastern History and Culture at Hamburg University was offered
the chair for Islamic Studies at Giessen April 1, 1993, new priorities were set
up. Semitic Studies had been
withdrawn from the programme of Oriental Studies the previous year. The
professorship for Turkish Studies is held by Mark Kirchner (born February 2,
1960) since October 1, 2003. Both, Islamic and Turkish Studies, are to be made
available for direct cooperative work with Islamic countries concerning their
economies, foreign policies, media, social and education policies.
In order to reach these goals, reforms of the programmes of
study are necessary. For this reason, the possibilities of interdisciplinary
research are being practised as well as developing integrative programmes for
law, political science, business administration, economics, geography, computer
science, history, and social sciences. The traditional methods of Oriental
research and teaching can no longer explain the effects of acculturation in
societies dominated by Islamic influence. Islamic Studies – in Giessen as
elsewhere – must rely on the methodology of integrative supplementary subjects.