Intellectual History

The Moritz-Stern-Institute is concentrated around the Chair of European Intellectual History at the University of Göttingen. Over the past decades new schools and approaches have turned intellectual history into a field of enquiry that is of importance to a wide range of disciplines within the humanities and social sciences. At a time when practitioners of these disciplines have increasingly made use of first ‘textual’ and later also ‘visual’ and ‘material’ historical sources, intellectual historians have brought a trained historical understanding to bear on the task of situating and interpreting writings belonging to earlier periods.

History of Political Thought

Modern Jewish Studies

Enlightenment Culture

One of the hallmarks of intellectual history is its position at the crossroads of a rich variety of disciplines. Intellectual historians are engaged in dialogue with the concerns of those working in Literature, Philosophy, Law, Politics, and Religious Studies, while at the same time pursuing their own concern with genuinely historical reconstructions of the cultural and intellectual life of the past. At the Moritz-Stern-Institute intellectual history stands at the crossroads of three fields of study, the History of Political Thought, Enlightenment Culture and Modern Jewish Studies. All scholars affiliated with the Moritz-Stern-Institute are active within these fields. Most have come to the institute with grants, fellowships and stipends from German and European foundations and institutions, most notably the Humboldt Foundation and the Marie-Skłodowska-Curie-Actions (MSCA) programme of the European Union.

The Legacy of Moritz Stern

The institute is named after Moritz Abraham Stern (1807-1894). From his birthplace Frankfurt am Main Stern moved to Göttingen in the spring of 1827 to study with one of Europe’s finest mathematicians and astronomers, Carl Friedrich Gauss. Moritz became the first doctoral student of Gauss and defended his doctoral thesis successfully in 1829. As his son, the Göttingen historian Alfred Stern (1846-1936), insisted in his Family History, published in 1906, Moritz Stern stood in the great tradition of Enlightenment scholarship, having broad interests in ‘oriental studies’, the comparative study of languages, history, especially Jewish history, astronomy and philosophy. The main reason for Stern’s fame was his appointment in 1859 as Ordinarius, as regular and full Professor of the University of Göttingen. Stern was the first non-baptised Jew to obtain such a position in the German lands and many regarded his appointment as a clear sign of progress. Seven decades later, in the early 1930s, many descendants of the Stern family had to feel from Germany, literally running for their lives. Amongst them were Alice Stern, her son Otto Frank and his family, including his daughter Anne Frank.

To name the Institute after Moritz Stern means to take on the historical legacy of his life, family, and intellectual passions. It also gives us a distinct historical responsibility. That is one of the reasons for the Institute’s active role in the support of scholars at risk.