History of the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities


„Elector Carl Theodor in his Study“
Painting by Johann Georg Ziesenis (1757/L 542)
Bavarian National Museum, Prinzregentenstraße 3, 80538 Munich

The Kurpfaelzische Akademie der Wissenschaften in Mannheim

The Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities is in the direct line of succession that dates back to the Kurpfaelzische Akademie der Wissenschaften (Academy of Sciences of the Electoral Palatinate) established in Mannheim in 1763 by Elector Carl Theodor of the Palatinate (1743-1799). As a ruler Carl Theodor was poised half-way between absolutism and the claims of the Enlightenment and his policies were strongly marked by the interest he took in culture and education. His reign extended over half a century and in that time Mannheim became a centre of the arts and sciences. The establishment of the Kurpfaelzische Akademie der Wissenschaften was advocated by Voltaire and it represented the pivotal agency for the Elector’s patronage of artistic and intellectual activity.

The Academy was quick to flourish, initially concentrating its research efforts on the history of the region. Soon, however, it largely transferred its commitment to the natural sciences. Various other scientific institutes were affiliated to the Academy, including the Natural History Collection, the Physics Collection, the Observatory and the Botanical Gardens. With the establishment of the „Mannheim World Meteorological Network“ for the collection of weather data between Greenland, the United States and Russia, the Academy set new standards in international scientific collaboration.

Given the close links between the Mannheim academy and the court of the Electoral Palatinate, it is readily understandable that Carl Theodor’s succession to the Bavarian throne was bound to deal the institution a crippling blow. Its demise was not long in coming. After the transfer of the Elector’s residence to Munich in 1778 the ongoing research projects petered out for lack of funds. The superb collections were taken to Munich. Finally the fate of Carl Theodor’s Palatinate was sealed in 1803 by the repercussions of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars.


Portrait of Heinrich Lanz
Painting by Max Koner
(1854-1900) or from his workshop
Photo: Foto-Gaertner, Heidelberg

The establishment of the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities

Just over a century after these events the Mannheim industrialist Lanz and his family gave the institution a new lease of life by providing the material basis for a new Academy with a donation of one million gold-marks. Under the patronage of the Grand Duke of Baden, the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities was inaugurated on 3 July 1909 with a festive ceremony to mark the occasion. The founding document, the seal and the medals emphasise the Academy’s close links with the traditions of the Kurpfaelzische Akademie. Since 1920 the Academy has been housed in the former residence of the Grand Duke on Karlsplatz square.

The Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities became the State Academy of Baden-Wuerttemberg in 1958. In 1966 the status of a civil law corporation was conferred on the Academy, thus consolidating its institutional status. As set out in its Statutes, the Academy enjoys the special protection and legal supervision of the Ministry of Higher Education, Art and Research of the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg.

responsible: editorial office
Latest Revision: 2018-05-24