History of Alexander von Humboldt Foundation

When the foundation was established in 1953, the moon landing was little more than a pipe dream, pacemakers and the contraceptive pill had not yet been invented, and smartphones and the Internet were at best science fiction. However, the fundamental idea underlying the Foundation is still relevant today.

Chronology of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation

1953 Establishment of today’s Alexander von Humboldt Foundation by the Federal Republic of Germany. German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer signs the deed of foundation.

Werner Heisenberg, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Physics and Astrophysics in Munich and 1932 Nobel Prize Winner in Physics, becomes the first President of the Foundation.

Ruth Ziervogel-Tamm, Executive Director of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), initially heads the Humboldt Foundation and the DAAD simultaneously.
1954 The first selection meeting: 78 out of 257 applicants from 35 countries are granted fellowships. Most hold a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree. They receive a monthly fellowship of 350 DM.
1955 The Foundation moves into its first independent headquarters in Nassestrasse in Bonn.

Ruth Ziervogel-Tamm officially becomes the Executive Director of the Humboldt Foundation.

German President Theodor Heuss holds a reception for 70 Humboldtians on the occasion of the Foundation’s first Annual Meeting.
1956 Heinrich Pfeiffer becomes the Secretary General of the Humboldt Foundation.
1957 Humboldtians and Humboldt Foundation staff meet for the first networking meeting.

Fellows travel all over Germany on the Foundation’s first study tour.
1958 The first edition of the “Mitteilungen für die ehemaligen Stipendiaten der Humboldt-Stiftung” published (as of 2000: Humboldt Kosmos).
1962 First Humboldt Club founded.
1963 The Foundation starts building guest houses and International Meeting Centres in university towns throughout the old Federal States.
1965 The purpose of the Foundation is redefined: “The purpose of the Foundation is to provide opportunities for highly-qualified young academics (…) to carry out research projects in the Federal Republic of Germany.” As of now, the focus shifts to promoting post-doctoral researchers, and mentoring during the research stay is intensified.
1972 The Humboldt Research Award for U.S. Senior Scientists is launched as a thank you to the USA for its support in rebuilding German science after the Second World War.
1975 Feodor Lynen, Director of the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry and 1964 Nobel Prize Winner in Medicine, becomes the new President of the Foundation.
1979 The third President of the Foundation is Wolfgang Paul, Director of the Department of Physics at the University of Bonn. In 1989, he is awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.

Establishment of the Feodor Lynen Research Fellowship Programme marks the beginning of sponsorship for German researchers who can now spend time working with Humboldtians abroad.
1985 The purpose of the Foundation is extended to include research awards and alumni sponsorship.
1989 Reimar Lüst, former President of the Max Planck Society and Secretary General of the European Space Agency (ESA), becomes the fourth President of the Humboldt Foundation.
1990 The Max Planck Research Award is granted for the first time.

The first prospective leaders from the USA receive the new German Chancellor Fellowships. The programme is opened up to the Russian Federation in 2001 and China in 2006.
1994 Under the “IBZ-Ost Programme” 13 International Meeting Centres are set up in the new Federal States by 2000.
1995 Manfred Osten is appointed as the Foundation’s new Secretary General.
1996 Researchers from transition and developing nations can now apply for the new Georg Forster Research Fellowships, funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
1997 Launch of the Roman Herzog Fellowship Programme for highly-qualified junior researchers from Central and East European countries.
1999 Wolfgang Frühwald, Germanist and former President of the German Research Foundation (DFG), becomes the fourth President of the Humboldt Foundation.
2000 Germany auctions off GSM licences and makes billions of euros; some of the revenue goes to science. The Foundation benefits and creates the Wolfgang Paul and Sofja Kovalevskaja Awards.
2003 The Foundation launches a campaign to establish a culture of welcome in Germany by holding a competition to find the Friendliest Immigration Office. The Foundation wants researchers from abroad to feel at home in Germany. The response is overwhelming. Subsequent initiatives, such as the Welcome Centres, are emulated throughout Germany in the following years.

The Humboldt Foundation strengthens its position at European level by becoming host to the National Contact Point (NCP) for Human Resources and Mobility as well as the German Mobility Centre.
2004 Georg Schütte is appointed as the Foundation’s new Secretary General.
2006 First round of the competition: Welcome Centres for Internationally Mobile Researchers. Three universities receive awards of up to 125,000 EUR each.

The Humboldt Foundation’s first Ambassador Scientists are appointed. They support the Foundation in an honorary capacity with information activities.
2007 A new career stage model replaces the age limits formerly applied to fellowships and awards.

The International Advisory Board is established. This independent, international panel of experts advises the Foundation on strategy.
2008 Helmut Schwarz, Professor of Organic Chemistry at TU Berlin, becomes the sixth President of the Foundation.

First conferral of the Alexander von Humboldt Professorship, the most valuable international award for research in Germany.
2009 International Climate Protection Fellowships for prospective leaders from transition and developing countries are announced for the first time. The programme is financed by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.

First Humboldt Alumni Awards granted.
2010 Enno Aufderheide is appointed as the Foundation’s new Secretary General.
2011 Launch of the Anneliese Maier Research Award to promote the internationalisation of the humanities and social sciences in Germany.

First ideas competition is organised: Research Alumni of Universities in Germany.

First Bonn Humboldt Award Winners’ Forum is held, bringing together Humboldt Foundation award winners and fellows.
2012 Launch of the Georg Forster Research Award for researchers from transition and developing countries.
2013 The German Chancellor Fellowship Programme is opened up to Brazil and India.

The Humboldt Foundation celebrates its 60th anniversary.
2014 The Humboldt Foundation launches Humboldt Life, its online network for members of the Humboldt Family.
2015 Launch of the Philipp Schwartz Initiative: the programme for persecuted researchers supports scientists and scholars who seek safe haven from war and persecution in their own countries and wish to pursue professional opportunities in Germany.
2018 Hans-Christian Pape, head of the Medical Faculty’s Institute of Neurophysiology at the University of Münster, becomes the seventh President of the Foundation.

The Foundation before 1953

The “Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung für Naturforschung und Reisen” (Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for Nature Research and Travel) was established in Berlin 18 months after the death of Alexander von Humboldt in 1860. Until it lost its endowment capital in the inflation of 1923, it essentially provided support for German scientists setting off on research journeys to other countries. A new Alexander von Humboldt Foundation was established by the German Reich in 1925. Its main purpose was now to support foreign students and later academics and doctoral candidates during their stay in Germany. In 1945, the Foundation ceased functioning. Today’s Alexander von Humboldt Foundation was established by the Federal Republic of Germany on 10 December 1953, partly at the behest of former Humboldt guest researchers. The headquarters were located then as now in Bonn-Bad Godesberg.

Literature:
Impekoven, Holger: Die Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung und das Ausländerstudium in Deutschland 1925–1945
Bonn University Press bei V&R unipress 2013

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