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Dr. Harald Fischer

Philanthropinum Dessau

The Edition is comprised of:


A total of 498 microfiches (Diazo, reading factor 24)
1999, ISBN 3-89131-358-6

Diazo (negative): EUR 3,530.– / Silver (negative): EUR 4,236.–

All titles in the collection are available individually.
Catalog: Unpublished Documents, Published Works

A Catalog on CD-Rom is available free of charge.

The Dessau Philanthropinum constituted a new kind of school, a school which existed utterly contrary to the usual practice - completely independent of the narrow control and supervision of the church. Not only were the contents of the Philanthropists' lessons (for instance, modern languages and sciences) wholly new, but also their methods of teaching. They believed learning ought to be a pleasure, and possibly even playful - a principle that generated sharp criticism. The wish of the Philanthropists - as argued for in many of their writings and as attempted in Dessau - was to prepare the students for their future lives. Useful and needful knowledge should be imparted, and not theoretical abstractions whose applicability was questionable at best. Even instruction in sports took its cue from the Dessau Philanthropinum: the pupils should alternate acquisition of knowledge, handiwork, and physical exercise in their everyday lives. It is also worthy of mention that (but for a few exceptional days) all the students wore the same simple clothing, in order that they might not differentiate themselves according to their family status. A high worth was set, however, on differentiation according to achievement. Even today, the «Table of Merit» exists in Dessau, on which the accomplishments and offences of each student are made publicly visible by means of a point system.

The Philanthropinum

On Dezember 27th, 1774, Johann Bernhard Basedow solemnly inaugurated a «School of Philanthropy» or Philanthropinum, as he called it himself in the letter he wrote from Leipzig (1774) promoting the experiment: « ... the Philanthropinum established in Dessau, a school of philanthropy and good grounding for students and young teachers ...». Christian Heinrich Wolke (1741-1825), who would later take over the leadership of the Philanthropinum, taught alongside Basedow himself at the new institute.

At the beginning, only one junior teacher and three students - among them Basedow's daughter Emilie, who would later make such an impression on the public with her immense learning - belonged to the model school. The Philanthropinum, however, rapidly caught the attention of the world far outside the city limits of Dessau. The number of students and teachers grew, but internal squabbling - often bound up with the difficult personality of the founder - cast a pall over the school's success.

Basedow had hoped to be financially independent of Prince Leopold Friedrich Franz of Anhalt-Dessau, who had originally brought him to the city, and he searched far and wide for patrons to support his work there. Even though this effort was not without some success, the Philanthropinum could not survive without the Prince's help. His financial allocations and the gift of the Palais Dietrich were decisive factorsfor the school. The larger building, renewed good publicity from a public, closely followed examination in 1776, as well as Basedow's retirement from the leadership of the school (he wanted to devote himself to the writing and theoretical work), rang in a new phase of consolidation. Yet differing views of educational goals and methods, personal animosities among the teachers, difficulties with the students, and everyday tedium weighed ever heavier on the institution.

Many distinguished names are associated with the Philanthropinum. In 1776, the pedagogue Joachim Heinrich Campe (1746-1818) took over the leadership from Basedow. A man formed by the Enlightenment, Campe soon found himself in conflict with the younger teachers representing the Sturm und Drang school of thought. These came mostly from Alsace and had been influenced by the «StrasbourgCircle». This conflict so burdened him that he quit the city, in some haste, after only a year. Campe is often considered to be the premier author among the Philanthropists, first because he produced the 16-volume Allgemeine Revision des gesamten Schul- und Erziehungswesens von einer Gesellschaft praktischer Erzieher (General Revision of the Collected School- and Educational-Systems of a Community of Practical Educators), which was arguably the most important pedagogical work of the 18th century, but above all because his works such as Robinson der Jüngere (Robinson the Younger) oder Die Entdeckung Amerikas (The Discovery of America) are the foundation of the genre of youth literature.

Ernst Christian Trapp (1745-1818), the first Professor of Pedagogy (in Halle, from 1779 onwards), also taught for a short time at the Philanthropinum. His most important work, Versuch einer Pädagogik (An Experimental Treatise on Pedagogy, 1780), was an attempt to summarise all fundamental insights of the field in a systematic way.

When the number of students in the Philanthropinum sank to a critical low in 1793, it closed quietly. Although its passing did not generate much attention, the impetus emanating from the school led to the founding of other such model schools, and the general reception - both positive and critical - of the new approaches instituted there decisively influenced the further development of schools and pedagogy.

Under the enlightened absolutism of Prince Franz in Anhalt-Dessau, the efforts at a lasting and fundamental reform of the school system continued after the closing of the Philanthropinum. Carl Gottfried Neuendorf (1750-1798), who had taught for a while at the Philanthropinum, founded the «Hauptschule» in Dessau in 1786. This and other schools, like the one (existing to this day) founded by Christian Gotthilf Salzmann (1744-1811) in Schnepfenthal, were substantially influenced by the Philanthropinum.

The Unpublished Documents

In the 1920s the Dessau State Library («Anhaltische Landesbücherei Dessau») took over the unpublished documents of the Philanthropinum, the reliquiae philanthropini.The relatively unknown material of the Dessau reliquiae have a significant meaning of their own, distinct from that of the pertinent sources held in other places, namely that here are many particular sources for the phase of institutionalization after the initial beginnings. What is astounding is the observation that the Enlightenment pedagogues like Basedow, Campe and Wolke are more well-represented in the materials than the younger Alsatian teachers, who with their differing points of view brought so much disquiet to the model school. Besides the letters available from famous contemporaries like Matthias Claudius, Georg Forster, Johann W. L. Gleim, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich G. Klopstock, Adolf F. Knigge, and Friedrich Nicolai, there are also many letters from the students' parents.

Calculations, housekeeping books, a listing of required table linens etc. are all to be found in the unpublished works, giving insight to everyday life at the Philanthropinum. The Merit Books, like the house rules, are very good sources for the often very controversial and hotly-debated questions of how the pupils were guided by their teachers or whether their freedom was, as alleged, excessive. Several of the teachers' lesson reports (for language lessons, among other things) give particulars of the actual teaching practice. Several student exercises are also available.

The documents are organized in five main categories:

The Published Works

To this day, the Dessau State Library holds a considerable stock of 18th century pedagogical literature. From its stock the microfiche edition of the Philanthropinum includes the published works from the members of the Philanthropinum and other pedagogues (works by Basedow, Campe, Wolke, Salzmann and others).

The standardworks of the Philanthropists were included (like Elementarwerk, Methodenbuch, Allgemeine Revision), as well as the journals published by the Philanthropists ( Pädagogische Unterhandlungen, Philanthropisches Archiv). Also included are the smaller works of the Philanthropists, which were formerly limited to quite a small distribution. The time period of the included works covers the entire second half of the 18th century.

The microfiche edition of the Dessau Philanthropinum makes the complete published and unpublished works of the Dessau Philanthropists available in one edition. For the researcher, this means a considerable simplification of access to first rate sources.