History of the Institute

detailed article by Felix Brahm and Adam Jones on the history of African Studies at the University of Leipzig has been published in the multi-volume edition Geschichte der Universität Leipzig. 1409-2009 which commemorates the 600th anniversary of the University.

On the history of African languages and literatures at the University of Leipzig an article has been published by Thomas Geider. It is part of the book accompanying the exhibition "Auf der Suche nach Vielfalt. Ethnographie und Geographie in Leipzig" (Grassi-Museum) on the occasion of the 600th anniversary of the University. It recalls the phases 1895-1936-1960-1993-to date. You can access the article here.

Leipzig's Institute of African Studies in its current form has been in existence since the mid-1990s. However, it emerged from an academic preoccupation with Africa at the University of Leipzig extending back more than 100 years. Since the time of German colonial rule, African studies in Leipzig have undergone numerous transformations.


Academic interest in Africa received an impetus in Leipzig as in other places from the acquisition of colonies in the late 19th century. In Leipzig, research on Africa originally developed within the framework of independent disciplines at the University, i.e. in linguistics, ethnology and geography. Under the influence of the linguist Hans Stumme, Middle Eastern and Oriental studies were extended to include a course of studies and research on African languages. In 1930 an Insitute of African Languages was established for the first time with the appointment of Stumme’s successor August Klingenheben. This Insitute existed until Klingenheben moved to Hamburg six years later. With the appointment of the future curator of the ethnographic museum, Karl Weule, to the newly established Chair of Anthropology, Ethnography and Pre-History in 1901, the ethnology of Africa - with an initial special interest in psychology - was introduced to the university's curriculum. Finally, Africa attracted even more interest in the framework of the Chair of “Colonial Geography and Colonial Policy” which was established in 1915. The chair was given to the explorer Hans Meyer, famous for his ascent of Kilimanjaro. Four years later, the “Seminar for Colonial Geography and Colonial Policy” emerged.

After 1945

Teaching and research on Africa was interrupted in the first years after the end of the Second World War. From the late 1950s onwards, political and economic attention was again attracted to Africa due to the independence movements, and Africa became part of the syllabus of the Karl-Marx University. Under the historian Walter Markov, Comparative Colonial History was introduced as a central course at the Institute of Cultural and World History, part of it being taught by specialists on Africa. Simultaneously it was decided to extend Middle Eastern and Oriental studies were to include Africa and Asia as a form of area studies with contemporary relevance. A first step towards this goal was taken in 1958 with the foundation of the Department of African Studies at the Institute of Middle Eastern and Oriental Studies. In 1960 the department was transformed into an independent “Africa Institute”. Head of the Institute was Markov’s former assistant Kurt Büttner. Initially, with regard to teaching content and staff, African studies was dominated by historical science.

From 1960 onwards, the Africa Institute in Leipzig developed into a multidisciplinary, Marxist-Leninist centre of research on Africa in the GDR. The Institute thus distanced itself from the research on Africa at Berlin's Humboldt University, which was judged to be highly linguistic and bourgeois in its orientation. Leipzig's Africa Institute was initially organised in three departments – history, economics and African languages and literatures. Additionally, a working group on “State and Law” was founded. Only six years later, the Institute was integrated into the “Department of Asian, African and Latin American Studies”, which was supposed to encourage collaboration between the regional sciences. Until the fall of the Berlin Wall, research on Africa and teaching was conducted within the framework of the “Department of African and Middle Eastern Studies” (Sektion für Afrika- und Nahostwissenschaften - ANW). In 1975, the “Department of Basic Questions on National Liberalisation Movements” (Lehr- und Forschungsbereich Grundfragen der Nationalen Befreiungsbewegungen) was added to the original department and chairs for contemporary history, economy, sociology, state and law and education were established. However, the chairs were not focused specifically on one region only. African and Middle Eastern studies united lectures and research on topics that included history, linguistics, literature, economy, law, sociology and philosophy/ideology. In 1989, twenty-five academics were working on Africa within the Department of African and Middle Eastern Studies.

After 1989

Following the fall of the Wall, a restructuring and reduction in staff took place. The Department of African and Middle Eastern Studies was initially integrated into the “Division of Middle Eastern and Oriental Studies and African Studies”. At the end of 1993, it was finally transformed into the “Institute of African Studies”. Subsequently a number of professors have been appointed for various areas of African Studies. In the mid-1990s a Master's course on “Small Enterprise Promotion and Training” (SEPT) was added to our portfolio.

Leipzig and Africa

The Institute of African Studies is not the only product of Leipzig’s attention to Africa. Multifaceted relations which date back to the 18th century connect Leipzig to Africa. These connections have left numerous traces in the cityscape. More Information...