The short history of nearly everything at the UG

If Hermione Granger had chosen the UG instead of Hogwarts, this recently published book would have been her favourite: The University of Groningen in the World: A Concise History.

The 136-page volume by Klaas van Berkel and Guus Termeer is the first official English-language publication that covers the short history of nearly everything at the UG with a focus on international relations.

‘UG president Jouke de Vries asked us to write it as a gift for UG guests and for students and scientists coming to Groningen from abroad’, says Guus Termeer. So they told the stories behind the UG history in such a way that they are easy to understand and a pleasure to read for everyone, he says. 

For starters, let’s see how many facts you didn’t know!

International students enrolled at the UG from year one

Internationalisation might appear to be a new phenomenon, but the UG has been pretty international since the 1614-1615 academic year , thanks to a community of professors and students arriving from, typically, Germany and especially East Frisia. For the next two centuries, 38 percent of UG students were from abroad, from places like Scandinavia, France, Scotland, and Hungary. Since the language of education was Latin, a language barrier was no reason to study in just one country and student exchange was the norm, too.

The only reason the UG wasn’t shut down was because it was so remote

The fate of the UG was at stake in 1811, when Emperor Napoleon annexed the Netherlands into the French Empire and ordered that the number of universities be reduced to one or two per region. It was a dark time for Dutch academia: all universities except the ones in Leiden and Groningen were shut down. The UG escaped that fate only thanks to its remote location. Back then, it would have been much too difficult to send students from the North to Leiden in winter time. 

The mystery of the Hortus Botanicus Haren

Have you ever wondered why the Hortus Botanicus is located outside of Groningen? When it was created in 1626 by pharmacist and UG professor Henricus Munting, the garden was actually situated in the city centre, near the Heymans building that now houses the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences. In the 1960s, however, when the UG campus was to be extended to the northern district of Paddepoel, the biology department refused to relocate there: the soil in the southern village of Haren was much better for the plants. It was only in 2010 that the biologists moved to the Linnaeusborg building at Zernike. The Hortus Botanicus isn’t owned by the UG anymore, although the university is still involved with the garden.

Please call me Bob

Academic exchange with American universities, among other things, led to an egalitarian shift in the UG educational system. Until the 1950s, the UG had been based on the German organisational model, where the hierarchy and superiority of professors were hardly questioned. The chemistry faculty was the first to introduce a different approach, which prioritised teamwork and collaboration, starting with an American guest lecturer who wore colourful shirts and told his students to call him ‘Bob.’ Within just ten years, Groningen chemists had proved the modern approach worked by becoming global leaders in the field. 

Love makes you crazy, even if you’re about to win a Nobel Prize

Did you know that the UG could have actually had three Nobel Prize winners by now? UG physicist Hessel de Vries would have been awarded the Nobel Prize for developing the carbon-14 dating method if he hadn’t fallen in love with his laboratory assistant. Well, if he hadn’t killed her when she turned him down and then committed suicide, to be precise. One year later, in 1960, his collaborator, American chemist Willard Frank Libby, did receive the Nobel Prize for their research. 

If you’d like to learn more about the university of Groningen, you can grab your copy at the UG’s I Shop or the bookstore and, just like Hermione, try to make a casual remark: ‘The UG was international from the very beginning, everyone knows that… well, everyone who has read The University of Groningen in the World: A Concise History.’


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