The history of Uppsala University – a brief summary

Anyone wanting to start a university in Sweden in the 15th century needed written authorisation from the Pope, a papal bull. Archbishop Jakob Ulvsson took the initiative to apply and on 27 February 1477 Pope Sixtus IV gave his permission.

The 15th century

In the 15th century, universities in Europe were closely linked with the Church. Accordingly, teaching mainly consisted of lectures in philosophy, law and theology. The founding of Uppsala University meant that Swedish clerics no longer needed to travel abroad for their education. The Faculty of Theology was at the heart of the University.

The 16th century

After Jakob Ulvsson left office in 1515, the University’s activities rapidly declined and ultimately ceased completely. Erik XIV and Johan III attempted to revive the University, but with no success. However, when the Church of Sweden held its famous Uppsala Meeting in 1593, when it broke away definitively from the Catholic Church, it also decided to restart the University.

Engraving showing Östra Ågatan with the Cathedral in the background in the 19th century. People are walking in the street. Flags are flying from buildings.

View from the 300th anniversary of the Uppsala Meeting. Engraving by Ferdinand Broberg, 1893.

The 17th century

The University begins to grow

Major donations from Gustav II Adolf to the University in the 1620s enabled the University to grow. The number of students increased every year. In the 1630s, the University had nearly 1,000 students.

The birth of natural sciences

As professor of medicine, Olof Rudbeck was one of the first to promote the natural sciences in Uppsala. He is primarily remembered for his discovery of the lymph system and for having built the anatomical theatre on top of Gustavianum.

First chair in eloquence and government

The University acquired its first chair in eloquence and government on the initiative of the University Chancellor at the time, Johan Skytte. The professorship survives to this day, though the duties of the chair-holder no longer include delivering a eulogy each month in praise of the infinite goodness of God, as directed by Skytte.

Student nations

In the 1640s, the students began to organise in ‘nations’ based on their home region. In the beginning, the nations were forbidden. However, after a few years, the University’s governing board (the Consistorium) realised that these associations were unstoppable and in 1663 it decided to recognise them.

At the same time, the members of the Consistorium considered that the nations should be integrated into the University’s organisation and they therefore decided to appoint one professor per nation to supervise activities at the nation. These professors were called inspectors. A few years later, the nations themselves began to propose which of the professors should become their inspector. The inspectors still exist and their role includes looking after the interests of the nations.

The 18th century

Two new natural sciences professors at Uppsala

In the mid-18th century, Anders Celsius became professor of astronomy. At about the same time, Carl Linnaeus was appointed professor of medicine. Linnaeus is primarily known as a botanist, but at that time botany was part of the medical field.

Linguistic research also advances

Another famous professor from this era was the linguist Johan Ihre. His research included etymology and Gothic studies. He was also a noted critic of the power of the Church and the State.

A temporary decline

During the final decades of the 18th century, the University fell into decline. The natural sciences experienced a downturn. Meanwhile, the disquiet following the French Revolution put a temporary stop to philosophical debate.

The 19th century

The age of student romanticism

The first half of the 19th century was the period when the romantic image of joyful singing students was established. Students became more prominent, Prince Gustav wrote the well-known student song and the classic student songs by the poet Gunnar Wennerberg – Gluntarne – became part of student life.

The University grows even more

Towards the end of the 19th century, new chairs were created in natural science and medical fields.

The University’s presence in the town also expanded. Several new buildings were raised: the University Library Carolina Rediviva, the Observatory, Chemicum and the new University Main Building.

Th student nations consolidated their position too and erected their own buildings.

The first female student at the University

Until 1870, women were not allowed to study at Swedish universities. When Betty Pettersson began to study in 1872, having applied to the king for an exemption, this marked the beginning of women’s rights in academia. However, it took another 50 years or more before women were able to pursue an academic career. It was only in 1925, after a long struggle led by Akademiska Bildade Kvinnors Förening (the Association of Academically Educated Women), that women obtained the same legal access to universities as men.

The 20th century

Between 1880 and 1945, the University continued to grow. The number of students increased from 1,500 to 4,500. New subjects were added, such as archaeology, art history and several modern languages. The faculty of philosophy was divided into faculties of natural sciences, humanities and social sciences.

The 1960s saw an educational boom. The number of students shot up from 8,000 to 21,000.

The 21st century

Gotland University College becomes part of Uppsala University

At the beginning of the 2010s, Uppsala University acquired a new campus – Campus Gotland. This happened after a decision by the Riksdag to merge Uppsala University and Gotland University College.

The University today

Today more than 50,000 students study at Uppsala University and there are more than 2,000 doctoral students. The University consists of three disciplinary domains: humanities and social sciences, medicine and pharmacy, and science and technology. These in turn are divided into nine faculties and under the faculties there are approximately 60 departments.

1477: Uppsala University’s charter. In a bull, issued upon request, at the initiative of Jakob Ulvsson, Pope Sixtus IV gives his permission to establish a university in Uppsala on February 27. On July 2, in Strängnäs, the University’s charter is signed by the Council of the Realm, led by Sten Sture. On September 21 the pope’s bull is ceremoniously inaugurated in Uppsala. On October 7 (St Bridget’s Day) instruction commences at the new University.

1508: Petrus Astronomus lectures on the elements of the theory of the heavens.

1515: Archbishop Jakob Ulvsson leaves his office for reasons of age. The University’s period of decline starts.

1530, ca: Instruction has virtually ceased.

1570s: Some instruction underway, initiated by King Johan III.

1593: Decision of the Uppsala Meeting is recorded on March 20. On August 1, Duke Karl and the Council of the Realm issue a document establishing professorships.

1595: On March 15 the University’s new charter is issued by Duke Karl and the Council of the Realm.

1600: On January 22 the University’s first documented degree conferment ceremony in philosophy takes place. One of the University’s scepters employed is still in use today.

1606: The first statutes are adopted.

1617: In connection with the coronation of Gustavus Adolphus the first doctoral conferment ceremony in theology is held.

1620: By royal decree the number of professorships increases dramatically. A University Library is established.

1620s: The Gustavianum building is erected.

1622: With a donation from Johan Skytte, the Skytte Professorship in Eloquence and Political Science is established.

1624: The Gustavian hereditary estates, which will be the University’s economic bulwark, are donated by Gustavus Adolphus.

1626: Constitutions, signed by Axel Oxenstierna and regarded as provisional, are issued.

1627: Orchestral activities, the origin of the Royal Academic Orchestra, are started.

1629: The first doctoral conferment ceremony in law takes place.

1640s: The first province-based student associations, nations, are formed.

1655: New constitutions are issued.

1660: Olof Rudbeck becomes professor of practical medicine.

1660s: Rudbeck establishes the Anatomical Theatre atop the Gustavianum.

1663: Student nations recognised by the University Board. Department of Exercitie (riding, drawing, languages, etc.) established.

1669: Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie donates the Silver Bible to Uppsala University Library.

1681: The first doctoral conferment ceremony in medicine takes place.

1693: The centenary of the Uppsala Meeting is celebrated with a royal visit and grand festivities.

1694: Karl XI donates the Augsburg Art Cabinet to the University.

1702: Uppsala is ravaged by fire.

1708: The Oxenstierna Building on Riddartorget Square becomes the University Hospital, Nosocomium, at the initiative of Lars Roberg.

1710: ‘The Society of the Curious’, later the Royal Society of Sciences in Uppsala, is founded.

1738: Johan Ihre becomes Skytte professor.

1739: The Estates establish a professorship in economics; the first holder is Anders Berch.

1741: Linnaeus becomes professor of medicine.

1742: Anders Celsius’ studies regarding the thermometer are published.

1744: The first professorship in surgery and anatomy is created.

1750: The first professorship in chemistry is established, with Johan Gottschalk Wallerius as its first holder. In the 1750s a chemical laboratory is built on Västra Ågatan. Samuel Klingenstierna, professor of mathematics, assumes the new professorship in experimental physics.

1753: Linnaeus introduces his nomenclature for plants in Species Plantarum.

1750s: Theatrum oeconomico-mechanicum is built at Gamla torget (‘Old square’).

1755: The new Senate Building, ‘Kuggis’, is completed on St. Erik Square.

1767: Torbern Bergman becomes professor of chemistry.

1778: The old main university building, Academia Carolina, situated south of the cathedral, is torn down.

1784: Carl Peter Thunberg becomes the Linnaeus professor.

1787: Gustav III donates parts of the Castle’s park grounds to the University; the Botanical Garden is created.

1792: Students protest against restrictions on the freedom of the press.

1800: New student unrest – the so-called Music Trial – takes place in connection with an academic ceremony.

1804: The Faculty of Medicine confers jubilee doctoral degrees (50th anniversary of receiving a doctorate). This is the first time this is done in Sweden.

1806: Education of the clergy is reformed; Samuel Ödmann becomes director of the seminary.

1807: Linneanum in the Botanical Garden is inaugurated.

1808: J.C.F. Hæffner becomes director musices. Uppsala student singing emerges.

1809: Benjamin Höijer becomes professor of philosophy.

1817: Erik Gustaf Geijer becomes professor of history. Östgöta Nation is the first student nation to acquire its own building, in a reconstruction of the Orangery in the Linnean Gardens.

1819: Prince Oscar’s name day is celebrated with major festivities and great rapture, an expression of students’ new royalist sympathies.

1830: Parliament decides to allocate funds to the University, which until then had largely survived on the yield from its own properties.

1834: Elias Fries becomes the holder of the Borgström endowed professorship (in practice in botany).

1839: Distinction of Honorary Master (later Honorary Doctor) introduced, at the initiative of P.D.A. Atterbom.

1840: The Faculty of Law is overhauled with new professorships.

1841 The new University Library, Carolina Rediviva, is opened.

1842 Christopher Jacob Boström becomes professor of practical philosophy.

1843: The first Scandinavianist student manifestation takes place in Uppsala.

1849: Uppsala Student Union is founded.

1849–51: Gunnar Wennerberg’s song cycle Gluntarne (The Freshmen) is published.

1850: Anatomicum is completed by the Iceland Bridge.

1852: New statutes are adopted. The University’s unique jurisdiction over its employees and students ends. The famous student song ‘Sjung om studentens lyckliga dag’ (Sing of the Carefree Days of the Student), by Prince Gustaf and Herman Sätherberg, is premiered at a student concert.

1853: The new astronomical observatory in Fjärdingen opens.

1858: Anders Ångström becomes professor of physics.

1859: The old Kemicum Building on the English Park is inaugurated.

1862: The old student matriculation diploma (studentexamen) to study at the University is replaced by a maturity diploma (mogenhetsexamen) issued by upper-secondary schools. Professor Carl Benedict Mesterton performs the first caesarian section at the University Hospital, then situated in the old History Department Building.

1867: The new University Hospital is opened.

1870: New degree statutes adopted for philosophy. Old Master’s degree replaced by doctor of philosophy degree.

1872: Betty Pettersson registers at the University as its first woman student.

1876: New University statutes are added. Carl Yngve Sahlin assumes the office of Vice Chancellor, the first to be truly elected.

1877: The 400th anniversary of the University is celebrated in a stately manner, with Viktor Rydberg’s Cantata, among other things.

1883: Ellen Fries becomes the first woman in Sweden to receive a degree of doctor of philosophy, having defended a dissertation in history.

1885: Harald Hjärne becomes professor of history.

1887: The Main University Building is inaugurated. The first study handbook is published by the student association Verdandi. The so-called probity debate takes place in Verdandi. Adolf Noreen becomes professor of Scandinavian languages.

1888: John Börjeson’s statue of Geijer is unveiled in front of the Main University Building. The student association Verdandi’s pamphlets begin to be published.

1891: Obligatory seminars are introduced in all humanities subjects. The student association Heimdal is founded.

1892: Uppsala Women’s Student Association is formed.

1893: At a grand jubilee festival, Alfred Nobel is one of those awarded an honorary doctorate. Adjunct John Björkén dies. His wills his fortune to Uppsala University to reward academic excellence (the Björkén Prize).

1894: The Vocational School for Home Economics, later incorporated in Uppsala University, is started by J A Lundell and Ida Norrby.

1898: Henrik Schück becomes professor of aesthetics, literature, and history of art.

1901: Nathan Söderblom, later archbishop, becomes a professor at the Faculty of Theology.

1901: The student association Laboremus is founded.

1907: The University celebrates the bicentenary of the birth of Linnaeus. Selma Lagerlöf is the first woman to be awarded an honorary doctorate. A new degree statute, creating the fil. ämbetsexamen (filosofie magister), is adopted. The Order of Juvenal, which flourished in Gunnar Wennerberg’s days as a student, is reconstituted.

1908: New University statutes are added. The scope of the Board is limited.

1909: All temporary professorships are converted into regular professorships. The Students’ Gymnastics and Sports Institution is opened.

1910: Hugo Alfvén becomes director musices.

1911: Axel Hägerström becomes professor of practical philosophy. Allvar Gullstrand, professor of ophthalmiatrics, receives the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine. The Faculty of Theology confers its first doctorate based on dissertation work.

1912: The Svedberg becomes professor of physical chemistry.

1913: Oscar Almgren is appointed professor of Nordic and comparative archaeology.

1914: Political strife among students is expressed in the form of heated debates during "the political spring term." Vilhelm Lundstedt becomes a professor at the Faculty of Law. Claes Annerstedt completes his history of the University.

1916: New University statutes are added.

1920: Work starts to restore the Linnean Garden on Svartbäcksgatan following a long period of decay.

1922: Manne Siegbahn becomes professor of physics.

1923: Swedish women gain access to government positions that require academic degrees. Axel Brusewitz becomes Skytte professor.

1924: Manne Siegbahn receives the Nobel Prize.

1925: The Sture Monument is inaugurated after several decades of discussion.

1926: The Svedberg receives the Nobel Prize.

1927: In connection with the 450th anniversary of the University, the archbishop confers doctoral degrees in theology appointed by the king for the last time.

1928: Robin Fåhræus becomes professor of pathological anatomy.

1930: The first student housing, ‘Gubbhyllan’ (‘Fellows’ Shelf’) on Övre Slottsgatan, is completed.

1931: H S Nyberg becomes professor of Semitic languages.

1932: Tercentenary of the death of Gustavus Adolphus, for which the Hall of State in the Castle is restored and used. The subject of history of science and ideas is created with Johan Nordström as the first professor.

1933: The High Voltage Institute at Husbyborg comes into use.

1934: Gregor Paulsson becomes professor of history of art and theory of art.

1935: Annual joint doctoral conferment ceremonies become the rule. Doctoral hats are introduced.

1939: For the first time the Walpurgis Eve address at Castle Hill is given by a woman, the Vice President of the Student Union, Eva Wennerström (-Hartmann).

1941: A first step toward student influence on university education is taken, as each faculty establishes an instructional board that must regularly consult with representatives of ‘academic youth’.

1943: Uppsala students demonstrate against Nazi attacks on Oslo University.

1945: Revitalisation of research and education after the war is prepared. 1945 Higher Education Task Force.

1948: Arne Tiselius receives the Nobel Prize.

1949: Gerd Enequist, a geographer, becomes the first woman professor at Uppsala University.

1950: With the retirement of archbishop Erling Eidem, the office of Pro-Chancellor at Uppsala University is eliminated.

1952: Increased housing construction for students. Studentstaden is started.

1953: New degree statute for philosophy.

1955: Educational overhaul of higher education is prepared. 1955 Higher Education Task Force.

1956: New University statutes. Departments mentioned officially for first time. Faculty of Philosophy is divided into a Faculty of Arts and a Faculty of Science and Technology.

1963: Allmänna Sången becomes a mixed choir, with both male and female singers.

1964: New University statute. University Administration expands. Office of Administrative Director established. The Faculty of Social Sciences is separated from the Faculty of Arts. For the first time political Student Union parties are active in the management elections.

1967: The extension in Örebro, later a university, opens.

1968: The Institute of Pharmacy in Stockholm is moved and becomes the Faculty of Pharmacy at Uppsala University.

1969: Reforms in undergraduate education are adopted; PUKAS with set curricula, educational ‘lines’ (programs), a credit system, and syllabi. Experiments with new forms of collaboration give students increased influence. Reformed research-level education decided. Requirements for doctorate revised.

1970: Teknikum premises completed.

1971: The last formal tie between the Church of Sweden and the University is dissolved when the representation of the Faculty of Theology in the Cathedral Chapter is discontinued.

1974: Construction starts on building on Luthagsgärdet for languages and social sciences.

1977: New higher education reform. The Higher Education Ordinance takes effect on July 1, with competition for some student places, more professional orientation, regional boards, and major organisational changes for the University. Various forms of teacher training are integrated with the University.

2012: Eva Åkesson becomes Uppsala University’s first female Vice-Chancellor.

2013: Gotland University College becomes part of Uppsala University