The Origins of Writing in the Disciplines: Traditions of Seminar Writing and the Humboldtian Ideal of the Research University

The introduction of seminars to university teaching marks the onset of a new teaching philosophy and practice in which writing is used to make students independent learners and researchers. Although the beginnings of writing pedagogy at American universities are well documented, little is known about its origins in Germany. The article tracks the history of seminar teaching back to its roots and reviews its historical development from the very beginnings to the point when seminars became the pedagogical flagship of the Humboldtian research university. Twenty seminar regulations from Prussian universities, written between 1812 and 1839, are reviewed with respect to the prescriptions they contain about writing. They reveal that a writing-to-learn pedagogy was elaborated as early as about 1820. The most important claim of the article is that an early concept of writing in the disciplines was central to the development of the Humboldtian research university.

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