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History of the Institute


The Origins of the History of Medicine in Bonn


The History of Medicine has been taught at the University of Bonn since the very establishment of the University in the early 19th century. The Philosopher and Professor of Physiology Karl Joseph Hieronymus Windischmann (1775-1839) delivered the first course in 1818, the year of the University’s and Faculty of Medicine’s founding, and continued it until his death in 1839. From 1839 onwards, the program was delivered by Professorial Assistants, including Carl Schmiz (1877-1946), the last of the Assistants, who taught from 1920 to 1942.

The Institute for the History of Medicine itself, however, was founded later in 1943, due in large part to the work of Johannes Steudel (1901-1973). A true polymath, Steudel studied Classical Archaeology, Art History, German and Philosophy, and in 1923 he was awarded his PhD in Archaeology. Through his archaeological research he developed a passionate interest in medical history. His ardent interest led him to the Leipzig Institute for the History of Medicine where he studied medicine from 1935-1941. The prestigious Leipzig Institute was founded by Karl Sudhoff (1853-1938) as the first of its kind in 1906. The Institute, later named after its founder, was headed by Walter von Brunn when in 1943 Steudel achieved his “Habilitation” (a qualification required for professorship in Germany). In the winter term of 1942/43, Steudel was appointed Lecturer for the History of Medicine at the University of Bonn. In 1957, he was promoted to Associate Professor (“außerplanmäßiger Professor”) and, in the same year, to Professor for the History of Medicine and the Sciences.


When Steudel arrived at Bonn in the winter of 1942/43, one of his first tasks was to locate an appropriate space for the Institute to conduct its research and teaching, and to create a fitting working environment. Following an application by the Faculty of Medicine, the Vice Chancellor offered multiple rooms in the University’s Main Building, situated between the Schlosskirche and the old Auditorium. With the acquisition of this space, the discipline now had its own building in Bonn. Its creation in 1942 sets the Institute apart as one of the oldest in Germany alongside Leipzig (1906), Würzburg (1921), Freiburg (1926), Frankfurt am Main (1927) Berlin (1930) and Munich (1939).

Extensive aerial bombing during World War II left large parts of the University campus including the Main Building in ruins. In the winter of 1945/46 when the University of Bonn re-opened its doors, Steudel began his search for a new location. In June 1946, the Institute for the History of Medicine was given three rooms on the ground floor in Reuterstr. 2b, a building owned by the University. After several relocations and longstanding efforts, the Institute moved into a new, purpose-built building on Venusberg. Building on the principles and approaches he had learned in Leipzig, Steudel founded a school of thought dedicated to studying ancient and medieval medicine, anatomy in the Renaissance and the history of the clinic.

[above: Portrait of Carl Schmiz / below: bust of Johannes Steudel; Institute for the History of Medicine, University Hospital Bonn; photos: Rolf Müller, UKB]

A Unique Building

Das Institut

The building on Venusberg remains to this day home to the Institute for Medical Humanities, formerly the Institute for the History of Medicine. The building represents in built form the realisation of a unique architectural concept. Constructed specifically for research and teaching in the History of Medicine it comprises a lecture theatre, a seminar room and offices for the Research Fellows as well as a reading room complete with a reference library. The reference library is complimented by the more extensive research library which spans two floors and has recently expanded its remit to now include international as well as German literature on Medical Ethics and Global Health.

The Institute for Medical Humanities is characterised by a distinctive atrium and central courtyard. It is a space in which the history and ethics, or the memory and consciousness, of medicine enrich one another. In other words, it is a site for critical reflection on the future of medicine which is grounded in historical consciousness.


From the 1970s to the Present

Steudel’s successors aimed to both continue and expand the pioneering research foci of the Institute following his retirement. Nikolaus Mani, who became director of the Institute in 1971, worked in that spirit. Mani, a Swiss-born Historian, was awarded his PhD from the University of Basel for his dissertation examining the history of research on the anatomy and physiology of the liver. It is today regarded as one of the seminal works in the History of Medicine. Upon completing his Habilitation in 1964 in Basel, where he worked as a Research Fellow in the University Library, Department of Medicine and Science, Mani was awarded a Visiting Professorship at the University of Wisconsin, Madison in the United States. He was later promoted to full Professor at the Medical School and would return to Germany with his appointment to Bonn in 1971.

Mani’s successor Heinz Schott completed his PhD in Medicine and Philosophy at the University of Heidelberg. Schott worked as a Research Fellow at the Institute for the History of Medicine at the University of Freiburg, Breisgau, from 1978 – 1987. Here, in 1982 he also wrote his Habilitation on Sigmund Freud’s self-analysis. Shortly after in 1987 he was appointed Professor at the Institute for the History of Medicine in Bonn which he also directed until he became Professor emeritus. His research interests centred around the history of psychiatry, psychoanalysis and psychosomatics, medicine in the era of Goethe (particularly Mesmerism) and medicine in the early modern era (particularly Paracelsism).

Since February 2017, the Institute has been directed by the Medical Historian and Philosopher Mariacarla Gadebusch Bondio.

On 15 January 2019, the Rectorate of the University of Bonn approved to rename the Institute “Institute for Medical Humanities” (IMH).


Further Readings on the History of the Institute

Forsbach, Ralf: Die Medizinische Fakultät der Universität Bonn im ‚Dritten Reich‘, München 2006, S. 322-332.

Kümmel, Werner Friedrich: Im Dienst ‚nationalpolitischer Erziehung‘? Die Medizingeschichte im Dritten Reich. In: Meinel, Christoph und Voswinckel, Peter (Hrsg.), Medizin, Naturwissenschaft, Technik und Nationalsozialismus. Stuttgart 1994, S. 295-319.

Nettekoven, Gabriele: Medizingeschichte an der Universität Bonn und die Gründung des Medizinhistorischen Institutes. In: Schott, Heinz (Hrsg.): Medizin, Romantik und Naturforschung. Bonn: Bouvier 1993, S. 144-153.

Schipperges, Heinrich: The Institute of the History of Medicine at the University of Bonn. In: Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 13 (1958), S. 410-411.

Schott, Heinz: Medizingeschichte in Bonn: das Medizinhistorische Institut der Universität. In: Bonner Universitätsblätter 25 (1992), H. 186, S. 17-18.

Schott, Heinz: Universitätskliniken und Medizinische Fakultät Bonn 1950-2000, Festschrift zum 50jährigen Jubiläum des Neuanfangs auf dem Venusberg. Herausgegeben von Heinz Schott, Bonn 2000, hier insbesondere S.110-115.

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