The University of Tübingen was founded in 1477 by Count Eberhard V (Eberhard im Bart, 1445–1496), later the first Duke of Württemberg, a civic and ecclesiastic reformer who established the school after becoming absorbed in the Renaissance revival of learning during his travels to Italy. Its first rector was Johannes Nauclerus.
Its present name was conferred on it in 1769 by Duke Karl Eugen who appended his first name to that of the founder. The university later became the principal university of the kingdom of Württemberg. Today, it is one of nine state universities funded by the German federal state of Baden-Württemberg.
The Alte Aula
The University of Tübingen has a history of innovative thought, particularly in theology, in which the university and the Tübinger Stift are famous to this day. Philipp Melanchthon (1497–1560), the prime mover in building the German school system and a chief figure in the Protestant Reformation, helped establish its direction. Among Tübingen's eminent students (and/or professors) have been the astronomer Johannes Kepler; the economist Horst Köhler (President of Germany); Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), poet Friedrich Hölderlin, and the philosophers Friedrich Schelling and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. "The Tübingen Three" refers to Hölderlin, Hegel and Schelling, who were roommates at the Tübinger Stift. Theologian Helmut Thielicke revived postwar Tübingen when he took over a professorship at the reopened theological faculty in 1947, being made administrative head of the university and President of the Chancellor's Conference in 1951.
The university rose to the height of its prominence in the middle of the 19th century with the teachings of poet and civic leader Ludwig Uhland and the Protestant theologian Ferdinand Christian Baur, whose circle, colleagues and students became known as the "Tübingen School", which pioneered the historical-critical analysis of biblical and early Christian texts, an approach generally referred to as "higher criticism." The University of Tübingen also was the first German university to establish a faculty of natural sciences, in 1863. DNA was discovered in 1868 at the University of Tübingen by Friedrich Miescher. Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, the first female Nobel Prize winner in medicine in Germany, also works at Tübingen. The faculty for economics and business was founded in 1817 as the "Staatswissenschaftliche Fakultät" and was the first of its kind in Germany.
The University played a leading role in efforts to legitimize the policies of the Third Reich as "scientific". Even before the victory of the Nazi Party in the general election in March 1933, there were hardly any Jewish faculty and a few Jewish students. Physicist Hans Bethe was dismissed on 20 April 1933 because of "non-Aryan" origin. Religion professor Traugott Konstantin Oesterreich and the mathematician Erich Kamke were forced to take early retirement, probably in both cases the "non-Aryan" origin of their wives. At least 1158 people were sterilized at the University Hospital.
After the war
In 1966, Joseph Ratzinger, who would later become Pope Benedict XVI, was appointed to a chair in dogmatic theology in the Faculty of Catholic Theology at Tübingen, where he was a colleague of Hans Küng.
In 1967, Jürgen Moltmann (b. 1926), one of the most influential Protestant theologians of the 20th century, was appointed Professor of Systematic Theology in the Faculty of Protestant Theology. Drafted in 1944 by Nazi Germany, he was an Allied prisoner of war 1945-1948. He was influenced by his colleague and friend Ernst Bloch, the Marxist philosopher.
In 1970, the university was restructured into a series of faculties as independent departments of study and research after the manner of French universities.
The university made the headlines in November 2009 when a group of left-leaning students occupied one of the main lecture halls, the Kupferbau, for several days. The students' goal was to protest tuition fees and maintain that education should be free for everyone.
In May 2010, Tübingen joined the Matariki Network of Universities (MNU) together with Dartmouth College (USA), Durham University (UK), Queen’s University (Canada), University of Otago (New Zealand), University of Western Australia (Australia) and Uppsala University (Sweden).