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Unity in bronze: German universities and the 250th anniversary of the Royal Society

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journal contribution
posted on 01.08.2021, 00:33 by Heike JonsHeike Jons, Michael Heffernan, Dean Bond
This essay explains the emergence of a new era in global science and politics through increasing scientific nationalism in the years leading up to World War I. Based upon original archival research, we examine how the cultural geopolitics of international scientific jubilees triggered a major change in the self-representation of Prussian and non-Prussian German universities from delivering individual congratulatory addresses to the demonstration of unity through one joint address and present. The analysis focuses on the first centenary of the Royal Frederick University in Kristiania and the quincentenary of the University of St Andrews, both held in 1911, before discussing how all 21 German universities agreed to convey their felicitations with one voice—as Universitates Germaniae—and one address—an inscribed bronze votive tablet—to the Royal Society in London on the occasion of its 250th anniversary as a chartered institution in 1912. We argue that in the context of growing imperial and economic rivalry between European nation states, the politicisation of these jubilees reinforced scientific nationalism and encouraged a unified appearance of German universities overseas, no less than 41 years after the constitution of the German Empire. By analysing changing material, practical, and imaginative resource ensembles in science and politics, we reveal how the geographical imagination of national unity materialised in the German universities’ use of bronze tablets for conveying academic appreciation and geopolitical messages in London, and at the Groningen tercentenary in 1914, and thereby heralded a new era characterised by a national university system, an escalation of scientific nationalism, and global wars.


Fritz Thyssen Foundation (Grant



  • Social Sciences and Humanities


  • Geography and Environment

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Notes and Records of the Royal Society


The Royal Society


AM (Accepted Manuscript)

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© The Authors

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This paper was accepted for publication in the journal Notes and Records of the Royal Society and the definitive published version is available at

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Prof Heike Jons. Deposit date: 5 January 2021