Mathematics in Berlin, 1810–1933

  • David E. Rowe


When Berlin University opened in 1810, Prussia stood under French occupation as Napoléon’s grande armée swept across Europe. Five years later, the Congress of Vienna sought to restabilise European relations by largely restoring the old order, thereby leaving a major question mark concerning the political constructs that were to constitute the modern nation states within the Continent’s centre. During the ensuing period, culminating in the dramatic events of 1848-49, students and other intellectuals crusaded for democratic reforms while governments cracked down on political agitation, beginning with the Carlsbad decrees of 1819. Hopes ran high in liberal university circles that Prussia, the most powerful and in many respects one of the more progressive of the German states, would take the lead in uniting Germany into a constitutional monarchy along lines similar to the French and British models. But after King Frederick William IV refused to accept the crown offered him by the Frankfurt Parliament in 1849, events soon took a sharp turn toward confrontation, and liberal dreams quickly dissolved after the hopelessness of military resistance became apparent. Fifteen years later, a younger generation would begin to discount the old ideals of the 1848ers in a world shaped by the “new” ethos of Bismarck’s Realpolitik, the politics of “blood and iron.”


Modern Nation State Georg Cantor Full Professorship Constitutional Monarchy Prussian Academy 
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  • David E. Rowe

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