ANJA WERNER, The Transatlantic World of Higher Education: Americans at German Universities, 1776-1914 (New York: Berghahn Books, 2013), xiii + 329 pp. Reviewed by Annette G. Aubert

Amerikastudien / American Studies 59.3 (2014)


In the nineteenth century, a total of 9,000 to 10,000 American students attended Germany’s best universities. A growing number of German and American scholars have been exploring how the influences of German education shaped America’s higher education system during that time, while acknowledging the limitations of attempts to duplicate German educational paradigms. One of the earlier research efforts in this area was Jurgen Herbst’s German Historical School in American Scholarship (1965), a broad investigation of the influence of German higher education on the American disciplines of history, religion, philosophy, and the social sciences. Three decades later a group of German and American scholars contributed to a collection of articles edited by Henry Geitz, Jürgen Heideking, and Jurgen Herbst under the title German Influences on Education in the United States to 1917 (1995), in which they explored German educational influences on America, from nursery schools to universities, and in individual disciplinary and interdisciplinary contexts. Also, in Americans and German Scholarship, 1770–1870 (1978), Carl Diehl described in broad strokes the effects of German education on Americans who studied in Germany during that period.


Anja Werner has written a noteworthy addition to this topic in the form of a comprehensive analysis of the nineteenth-century American student migration to Germany. By addressing an important gap in the history of American higher education, she clarifies our understanding of the lives of American students attending German universities at Göttingen, Halle, Leipzig, and Heidelberg from 1776 to 1914. Using a range of archival sources to establish a comprehensive description of American student life abroad, Werner adds telling details on student migration patterns, the makeup of student communities in the American colonies, and aspects of academic networks, details that previous scholars have glossed over.


Academic networking is the prominent theme in this book. Werner provides valuable insights in the form of both statistical data and biographical information and considers a broad range of topics such as gender diversity, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disabilities, economic factors, and even military history. While her book cannot be viewed as a significant break from previous research, Werner has made an important contribution to the research of American student life in Germany in terms of personal educational experiences.


In the first of eight chapters, Werner reviews five periods in American educational reform, touching on topics such as military conflicts and the history of Southern higher education. She reminds us that “the South also left its imprint on student migration to Germany” (29). The book suggests new research possibilities for exploring American higher education in terms of regional diversity, especially the contributions made by Southern universities to higher education in nineteenth-century America. The first chapter concludes with a discussion of interdisciplinary educational dynamics in the context of Wissenschaft. Werner’s recognition of the significance of this concept underscores the desirability of further research on differences in scientific concepts between nineteenth-century German and American scholars, including the recent contributions of Thomas Albert Howard, Philip Löser, and Christoph Strupp.


Chapter two begins with an examination of existing research on American student migration and includes a thorough analysis of archival data on the number of American students in Germany between the mid-nineteenth century and the start of World War I, as well as changes in the makeup of American student populations at German universities. Werner also presents her findings on the regional distribution of American students at German universities.


Chapter three offers significant insights into topics generally overlooked by previous generations of scholars, who tended to limit their discussions to American male students in Germany. Only after Margaret Rossiter’s groundbreaking Women Scientists in America: Struggles and Strategies to 1940 (1982) scholars begun to focus on American women studying in German universities, especially in medicine and the sciences. Werner makes a strong contribution in this regard, exploring distinct American student groups in terms of gender, ethnicity, physical ability, and sexual orientation, especially at the University of Leipzig. Werner also sheds some light on the lives of African Americans who studied in Germany before returning to America with goals of advancing “black education” and “racial equality” (79).


In Chapter four, Werner addresses the enthusiasm behind the movement of many American students to German universities by examining their motivations. She uses personal accounts to explain why American students chose Germany as their study destination and notes that one of the main reasons was access to the most up-to-date training and research in the sciences and other disciplines. According to Werner, Americans flocked to Germany to satisfy their desire for “innovation” (110). By using the University of Leipzig as a case study, she describes different phases in American student enrollment at that institution. At its height, Leipzig was home to a large number of “scholar-scientists” who engaged in interdisciplinary discussions of contemporary issues in the humanities and natural sciences (113).


Academic networking is the focus of Chapter five, in which Werner explores relationships between American students and professors at the University of Leipzig. As she notes, “[a]cademic networking based on transatlantic mentor-disciple-relationships played a key role in the transfer of scientific and scholarly methods and approaches across the Atlantic” (140). Another important aspect of university life at Leipzig was the access that female students had to some of the most respected scholars. Yet for most American students, German professors were of interest only for as long as they could offer innovative ideas and training for academic careers in the United States. Another aspect of academic networking, American student organizations, is the topic of Chapter six. American-based churches and the American Leipzig Students’ Club served as the primary settings for socializing and networking. The American students’ club was modeled after the “German academic clubs” and served various purposes, yet mainly tailored for the formation of “academic networks” (171).


Chapter seven discusses how American students perceived German university life, language, and culture and what aspects of German traditions were worth adopting. According to Werner, they “did not want to copy the German ways […] [but] wanted to look and learn at best and subsequently do it better the American way” (223). The next chapter looks at the ways in which American students were trained for careers back home. By earning prestigious German university degrees, they were positioned to start academic careers in their chosen disciplines in some of the academic institutions in both countries. In addition to their degrees, American students returned with books (in some cases, entire libraries), scientific journals, and modern research equipment. Werner considers different aspects of the transatlantic book trade and concludes that purchasing books was central to any German academic experience consisting of pure scholarship. For returning students, a Ph.D. degree from a German university was held in the highest esteem until a growing number of American institutions started offering doctorates in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


Werner’s conclusion is that “academic networking was the essence of the nineteenth-century German experience,” and that the contemporary university in the United States “was born in direct contact with a foreign culture” (266). She provides clear descriptions of the networking that took place between American students and German professors within American student communities and with students and visiting scholars from many countries, including their own. She emphasizes how American women intellectuals participated in these networks in ways that planted the seeds for greater “gender equality” in the United States (264). In support of her arguments, Werner includes an appendix containing statistics on the personal backgrounds of American students in Germany. Werner’s extensive research has provided an important contribution to the current discussion of transatlantic studies.


The Transatlantic World of Higher Education is a valuable addition to scholarship on the nineteenth-century movement of American students to German universities, a comprehensive account of the American visiting student community, and the intellectual and physical resources that it brought back to the benefit of American institutions.


Oreland, PA, Annette G. Aubert