You are here: Home Department History

History of the English Department at the University of Freiburg

vintage hogwarts [siller]The Beginning

In July 2008, we celebrated 200 years of English at the University of Freiburg. In 1808, Professor Karl von Rotteck, a historian and political scientist, did indeed offer an English conversation course at the university, categorized under ‘spiritual retreat’ in the course catalog. But it took almost another 100 years for English studies to be established as a discipline in its own right. The subject was initially considered a formal subdiscipline of German studies, but even once it had been officially designated with its own department, the department was very bare bones. From 1911 until the beginning of the Federal Republic of Germany, English studies at the University of Freiburg had only one professorship and one lectureship – but these positions were filled by the excellent Professor Friedrich Brie and a succession of hand-picked native English speakers.

Rebuilding and Expansion After WWII 

Interest in English studies increased in the postwar period and the English Department steadily expanded, moving from building to building. Directly after the war, the department was housed on an upper floor of KG I, with the department chair, Professor Hermann Heuer, in one office and the rest of the space used as the library and workspaces. Several years later, Professor Herbert Pilch was hired as a second chair of English studies and the chair of American studies position was created – and filled by Professor Franz Link. The department needed more room and moved to the building at Rotteckring 4, directly above a pharmacy, in 1961. Professor Link’s American studies section took the second floor, Professor Pilch’s section was located on the third floor, the fourth floor housed the assistants, and Professor Heuer and his section had the fifth floor. The library was spread across all the floors, but generally the holdings on each floor matched the subject matter of the respective academic section. 

As student enrollment grew throughout the 1960s and 1970s and new professors – Professor Alfred Schopf, Professor Willi Erzgräber and Professor Paul Goetsch – were hired, more space was again needed; the department rented additional offices just around the corner at Bertoldstr. 33. This meant that the department was now spread across two buildings. And then in the 1980s, the university wanted to cut costs by giving up as many of its rented properties as possible, including Rotteckring 4. Luckily, the music college was soon moving out of the Haus zur Lieben Hand, a centrally located, university-owned building, and a portion of the English Department offices plus the library were able to move in. But they had to do so extremely quickly. At the time, any building left sitting empty was almost immediately taken over by squatters (the counterculture was flourishing in Freiburg), so the English Department had to make sure they moved in on the same day as the music college moved out.

Current Home

The old university library building was also renovated in the 80s and renamed KG IV, and the English Department thought it was high time to be located under one roof. So in 1986, the offices and books from Bertoldstr. 33 and the Haus zur Lieben Hand were all moved into KG IV, which is still home to the English Department today. Spread out over the first to third floors, the department now has 6 full professors, 25 additional academic staff and research associates, and around 50 visiting researchers, teaching assistants, student assistants and support staff. The departmental library, consisting of approximately 60,000 volumes, occupies an area of 3,434 square feet across two large rooms in the building’s joint library.

The scope of English studies has also greatly expanded over the years. In addition to traditional English literature and linguistics – the cornerstones of the discipline – the department has incorporated cultural studies as a core component of its curriculum. The department’s geographical focus is also much broader now, encompassing the study of English literatures and cultures and varieties of English from beyond Britain and North America.