Emily J. Levine

Mar 25, 2022

Allies and Rivals

German-American Exchange and the Rise of the Modern Research University

University of Chicago Press 2021

During the nineteenth century, nearly ten thousand Americans traveled to Germany to study in universities renowned for their research and teaching. By the mid-twentieth century, American institutions led the world. How did America become the center of excellence in higher education? And what does that story reveal about who will lead in the twenty-first century?

In Allies and Rivals: German-American Exchange and the Rise of the Modern Research University (University of Chicago Press, 2021), Dr. Emily Levine presents the first history of the ascent of American higher education seen through the lens of German-American exchange. “This book treats transatlantic culture exchange and competition as its topic, methodology, and causal historical mechanism. It uncovers the origins of the research university by pulling apart the strands of parallel, comparative, and intertwined stories that unfolded on both sides of the Atlantic. Chapters pair individuals and institutions from Germany and America to reveal side-by-side stories about how idealists made compromises to create universities they hoped would bring tangible benefits to their respective communities.”

In a series of compelling portraits of such leaders as Wilhelm von Humboldt, Martha Carey Thomas, and W. E. B. Du Bois, Dr. Levine shows how academic innovators on both sides of the Atlantic competed and collaborated to shape the research university. Even as nations sought world dominance through scholarship, universities retained values apart from politics and economics. Open borders enabled Americans to unite the English college and German PhD to create the modern research university, a hybrid now replicated the world over.

Dr. Levine argues that “the university did not emerge in isolation nor was it ever a finished project. Rather, the compromises were constantly renegotiated by these innovators and other social actors amid changing contexts. As the society that the university served evolved, the university coevolved into such forms as the central state university in Berlin, the land grant in California, and the privately funded urban university in Baltimore, and each time the academic social contract was reconstituted.”

In a captivating narrative spanning one hundred years, Dr. Levine upends notions of the university as a timeless ideal, restoring the contemporary university to its rightful place in history. In so doing she reveals that innovation in the twentieth century was rooted in international cooperation—a crucial lesson that bears remembering today.

This interview was conducted by Dr. Miranda Melcher whose doctoral work focused on post-conflict military integration, understanding treaty negotiation and implementation in civil war contexts, with qualitative analysis of the Angolan and Mozambican civil wars.

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Miranda Melcher

Miranda Melcher (Ph.D., Defense Studies, Kings College, London) studies post-conflict military integration, understanding treaty negotiation and implementation in civil war contexts, with deep analysis of the Angolan and Mozambican civil wars.

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