Humboldt Forum
© Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Universitätsbibliothek / Stiftung Humboldt Forum im Berliner Schloss, digitale Reproduktion: Jester Blank GbR
College Notebook

College Notebook

“=I DISPUTE THIS!=” This comment in the margin of lecture notes dating from the summer semester of 1885 reads like a proclamation. Using capital letters, equal signs and an exclamation mark, Frederick Blanck lent weight to his misgivings. The author was a student at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität (today’s Humboldt-Universität) zu Berlin.


Blanck left behind numerous notes, transcripts and postscripts of scientific lectures amounting to several thousand pages. Such notes were an important learning resource at the time. Students compared their notes, correcting and supplementing them with content that they had missed but which their fellow students had noted. Today the old college notebooks give us an impression of the teaching methods and content of the time as well as an insight into the reception of knowledge transfer. They also prove invaluable when the lectures of famous teachers were not published elsewhere and have thus only been preserved in the notes.


Blanck’s comment refers to a statement by Friedrich Paulsen (1846–1908), the first professor for pedagogy in the German Reich. In his lecture on psychology and anthropology he stated: “A tax that is levied annually is not felt in the same way as the equivalent sum in monthly instalments.” In the e xhibition, Blanck’s objection stands not only for the ability to criticize and engage in critical thought but also for transcending boundaries in a constructive manner.

As a proponent of progressive education, Paulsen wrote important texts on pedagogy and the history of education. The comment in the college notebook provides an alternative approach to his ideas. The dissenting opinion – admittedly a somewhat incomplete one – of a student is revealed in addition to Paulsen’s own viewpoint. What also becomes tangible is the way knowledge has been pursued at universities since time immemorial. Friedrich Blanck the student is here privately taking a critical stance towards his lecturer. The lecture format makes an open exchange of views neither possible nor desirable. Thus Blanck has no other option than to formulate his opposing view in writing.


The instance of doubt recorded here can also be understood as an expression of self-empowerment. At that time, studying at a university was the privilege of a tiny fraction of the population and a strictly hierarchical social system dominated in which respect for people in official positions was a matter of course. Nevertheless, the university formed a type of biotope within which a student felt capable of contradicting the famous professor – at least to himself.

In the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin’s exhibition space on the first floor of the Humboldt Forum, you can experience the processes of searching for and acquiring scientific knowledge. The college notebook is also included amongst the exhibits.

From the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, in future displayed in the exhibition on the first floor of the Humboldt Forum.


This notebook contains lecture notes taken by a student named Friedrich Blanck in 1885. Several sets of lecture notes and hand-copied texts in his hand are today held by the university library of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. However, the question of how the documents found their way into this collection still awaits a definitive answer. Research is underway as part of the exhibition preparations. However, it is highly unlikely for any problematic issues related to colonialism, Nazi confiscations or illicit acquisition to emerge.

College Notebook
Humboldt Forum Highlights

The first 15 of these Humboldt Forum Highlights will be presented between October 2018 and May 2019 in two formats: in an exhibition as well as during conversations that will be held at various locations in Berlin.

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