It was founded in 1734 by George II, King of Great Britain and Elector of Hanover, and was then opened in 1737. The University of Göttingen soon grew in size and popularity. Göttingen is a historic university city, with a high student population and has been home to generations of notable academics and notable alumni alike.
The University of Göttingen is also one of the highest-ranked universities in Germany.
In 1734, George II, King of Great Britain and of Hanover, gave his prime minister Gerlach Adolph von Münchhausen, the order to establish a university in Göttingen to carry forward the idea of academic freedom at the times of European Enlightenment. Upon that, the University of Göttingen became the trailblazer of European universities to hail academic freedom with its four classic faculties of theology, law, philosophy and medicine.
In the first years of the University of Göttingen it became famous for its faculty of law. In the 18th century Johann Stephan Pütter, the most prestigious scholar of public law at that time, taught jus publicum here for half a century, which had attracted a great number of students such as Klemens Wenzel Lothar von Metternich, later diplomat and prime minister of Austria, and Wilhelm von Humboldt, who later set up the University of Berlin. It is also worth mentioning for this period that Arthur Schopenhauer, the German philosopher best known for his work The World as Will and Representation, became a student at the University of Göttingen in 1809, where he studied metaphysics and psychology under Gottlob Ernst Schulze, who advised him to concentrate on Plato and Kant.
By 1837, when the university was a hundred years old, the University of Göttingen had earned its fame as "university of law" because almost every year the students enrolled by the faculty of law made up more than half of all the students on the campus. Göttingen became a mecca for the study of public law in Germany. Heinrich Heine, the famous German poet, studied law and was awarded Dr.iur..
However, political disturbances, in which both professors and students were implicated, lowered the attendance to 860 in 1834. The expulsion in 1837 of the famous seven professors - Die Göttinger Sieben - viz, the Germanist, Wilhelm Eduard Albrecht (1800-1876); the historian, Friedrich Christoph Dahlmann (1785-1860); the orientalist, Georg Heinrich August Ewald (1803-1875); the historian, Georg Gottfried Gervinus (1805—1875); the physicist, Wilhelm Eduard Weber (1804-1891); and the philologists, the brothers Jakob Grimm (1785-1863), and Wilhelm Grimm (1786-1859), for protesting against the revocation by King Ernest Augustus I of Hanover of the liberal constitution of 1833, further reduced the prosperity of the university. Prior to this, the Brothers Grimm had taught here and compiled the first German Dictionary.
Thereafter, Gustav von Hugo, forerunner of the historical school of law, and Rudolf von Jhering, a most significant jurist who created the theory of "culpa in contraendo" and wrote Battle for Right, taught here in the 19th century and maintained the good reputation of the faculty of law. Otto von Bismarck, the main creator and first chancellor of the second German Empire, had also studied law in Göttingen in 1833 and lived in a tiny house on the "Wall" (according to oral tradition, he lived there because his rowdiness had caused him to be banned from living within the city walls), now known as "Bismarck Cottage".
Nevertheless, what made Göttingen a focus of the world scientific center was its glory in natural science, especially mathematics. Carl Friedrich Gauß, the "most important mathematician", taught in the 18th century here in Göttingen. Bernhard Riemann, Johann Peter Gustav Lejeune Dirichlet and a number of significant mathematicians made their contribution to mathematics here. By the end of the 19th century David Hilbert and Felix Klein had attracted mathematicians from around the world to Göttingen, which made Göttingen the center and mecca of mathematics at the beginning of the 20th century in the world.
In 1903, its teaching staff numbered 121 and its students 1529. Ludwig Prandtl joined the university in 1904, and developed it into a world leader in fluid mechanics and in aerodynamics over the next two decades. By the 1920s, it was unparalleled, and in 1925, Prandtl was appointed director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Fluid Mechanics. Many of Prandtl's students went on to make some of the fundamental contributions to aerodynamics, and read like a "who's who" guide to the field.
To date, 45 Nobel Prize laureates have studied, taught or made contributions here. Most of these prizes were given in the first half of the 20th century, which was called the "Göttingen Nobel prize wonder".
Social studies and study of humanities continued to flourish. Edmund Husserl, the great philosopher and known as the father of phenomenology, taught here. Max Weber, the great sociologist studied here for one term.
Though David Hilbert remained, by the time he died in 1943, the Nazis had essentially gutted the university, as many of the top faculty were either Jewish or had married Jews. About a year after the purge, he attended a banquet, and was seated next to the new Minister of Education, Bernhard Rust. Rust asked, "How is mathematics in Göttingen now that it has been freed of the Jewish influence?" Hilbert replied, "Mathematics in Göttingen? There is really none any more" (Reid, 205). Today, Göttingen is one of the most comprehensive universities in Germany, with a respectable, but no longer world-famous, mathematics department.
Today the university consists of 13 faculties. About 24,000 students are currently enrolled. More than 2,500 professors and other academics presently work at the University, assisted by a technical and administrative staff of over 10,000. The post-war expansion of the University led to the establishment of a new, modern 'university quarter' in the north of the town. The architecture of the old university can still be seen in the Auditorium Maximum (1826/1865) and the Great Hall (1835/1837) on the Wilhelmsplatz.
The most important and famous tradition of the university is that every PhD student who has just passed her/his rigorosum (oral doctoral test) shall sit in a wagon - decorated with flowers and ballons and accompanied by relatives and friends, drive around the inner city and arrive finally at the Marktplatz - the central square where the old town hall and the Gänseliesel statute are located. The "newly born doctor" shall climb up to the statute of Gänseliesel (a poor princess in an old fairy tale who was compelled to keep gooses by a wicked woman and later regained her identity), kiss the Gänseliesel and give bouquets to her. The Gänseliesel is probably the girl who has received the most kisses in the world.
There is an old saying about life in Göttingen, still inscribed in Latin nowadays on the wall of the entrance to the Ratskeller (the restaurant located in the basement of the old town hall): Extra Gottingam non est vita, si est vita, non est ita (There is no life outside Göttingen. Even if it is life, it is no life like here). "Ancient university towns are wonderfully alike. Göttingen is like Cambridge in England or Yale in America: very provincial, not on the way to anywhere - no one comes to these backwaters except for the company of professors. And the professors are sure that this is the centre of the world. There is an inscription in the Rathskeller there which reads 'Extra Gottingam non est vita', 'Outside Göttingen there is no life'. This epigram, or should I call it epitaph, is not taken as seriously by the undergraduates as by the professors."(Bronowski, 1973, The Ascent of Man, p. 360)
The university is not centralized, but rather spread out in several locations around the city: The central university complex with the main library and Mensa (dining hall) is located right next to the inner city and comprises the faculties for Theology, Law, Economics/Business Administration and Linguistics. The departments of Ancient History, Classics, various languages, and Psychology are nearby. Elsewhere in the city are the departments of Anthropology, Mathematics and Educational Sciences as well as the Medical Faculty with its associated hospitals.
Just north of the city a new scientific center has been built in which most of the natural sciences (Chemistry, Microbiology, Plant Pathology, Agronomy, Forestry, Geology, Physics, Computer Science and, starting in the year 2010, Mathematics) are now located, including the GZMB. Other institutes are set around the inner city.
The University offers eight snack shops and six Mensas serving lunch at low prices for the students. One Mensa also provides dinner for students. Besides teaching and researching facilities, the city itself, as an ancient university town, presents typical scenes of German towns that combine beautiful natural resources with historical landmarks. Strolling around the inner city, one can perceive that scholastic atmosphere permeats the city life, for almost all the streets in Göttingen are named after scintillating celebrities who have once studied or taught here.