about the conference

University Students and Politics. Student political activism in the 19c and 20c Europe
International conference at the University of Gdansk (Poland): November 17–19, 2016.

The beginning of the nineteenth century marks a true turning point, a scientific revolution in the area of higher education in Europe. The Universities, already ridden by crises, were shaken by the new ideas of humanity, a new society, born during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era that followed. It was then that the outdated, corporate organization of the European models of higher learning, deeply rooted in the Middle Ages was eventually rejected. Two contesting models emerged. The first, Napoleonic, focused on students obtaining practical knowledge  and the schools being dependent on the state authorities. The second, Humboldt’s, was based on the idea of students searching for the true knowledge and conducting research with a full autonomy of the academic unit. As a result, a modern university model was born which encompassed both the ideas of a science and research as well as technical skills. Since then the schools of higher learning were supposed to serve a double purpose: reservoir of knowledge and a space to expand it via research, as well as a place for the students to socialize, shape their characters and decide their future careers.

Although Karl Wilhelm von Humboldt assumed that modern universities would enjoy true academic autonomy and remain properly distanced politics the reality of the age was quite different from his vision. Even if state authorities refrained from interference, and the academic teachers did not take active part in the political life of the era, the students were almost impossible to be tamed and kept out of politics. Therefore, in the beginning of the nineteenth century the words: “students” and “youth” were coupled with “rebellion”. Such association did not lose its relevance in the century that followed. Symbolically, the stabbing of the German writer August von Kotzebue by a theology student (Karl Ludwig Sand) in 1819 opened the era of student involvement in politics. The state efforts to limit student radicalism by imposing censorship and tightening control did not bring the expected results. Student engagement grew stronger and more intense. It is safe to say, that students played a significant role in all major European revolutions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Concurrently, the Universities became sources of progress, spaces in which new ideas, thoughts, and criticism of the existing social and political order were born.

The planned conference should be useful in finding answers to the following questions: Was the time spent at the university crucial for the formation of the political views of the students? What were the responses by the university authorities to the student political involvement? What were the forms of the student political engagement? Were they legal, or covert? The Conference organizers decided to skip the matters related  to students’ daily routines, education processes and narrow the focus of scholarly attention to the non-scientific activities of the academic youth.

We encourage experienced researchers from both Poland and abroad to accept our invitation for discussions that shall revolve around the following themes (both on individual and collective levels):

  • Political student organizations – origins, activities, significance;
  • Students as members of the parties and political organizations – their status, role, activities;
  • Methods to counteract/support student political engagement by the state and school authorities – the law as a stimulator of expected student behavior;


  • Academic teachers and student political engagement – academics’ influence on the minds and hearts of the youth;
  • The role of student engagement in socio-political change – students’ role of inspiring and initiating changes/reactive support and partaking in existing programs and projects;
  • Students during military conflicts – wars, revolutions, assassinations;
  • Challenges of the era – students versus ideology (religion, nationalism, equality in civil and human rights, discrimination, etc.)

LANGUAGES: Polish, English, German, Russian.

PUBLICATION: All papers submitted for publication will be subject to review. Only positively evaluated papers will be published.



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