History – University of Copenhagen

History

Founded in 1479, the University of Copenhagen is not only Denmark's oldest university, but also one of the oldest in Northern Europe. Its location in the capital city makes the University's development, key people and events part of the history of Denmark. Read more about the history of The University of Copenhagen

Read about the University's historical figures, prizes, organisation and buildings on the website for
the history of The University (in Danish)

Or search directly on the topics in
The University encyclopaedia (in Danish)

Among the University's renowned, historical scholars are

  • Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), astronomy
  • Ole Worm (1588-1654), medicine
  • Ludvig Holberg (1684-1754), metaphysics, rhetoric and history
  • H.C. Ørsted (1777-1851), physics
  • Georg Brandes (1842-1927), aesthetics
  • Niels Finsen (1860-1904), Nobel Laureate in Medicine, 1903
  • Johannes Fibiger (1867-1928), Nobel Laureate in Medicine, 1926
  • August Krogh (1874-1949), Nobel Laureate in Medicine, 1920
  • Niels Bohr (1885-1962), Nobel Laureate in Physics, 1922
  • Inge Lehmann (1888-1993), seismologist

E-book

Read the book about the history of the University of Copenhagen.

Important dates in the history of the University

  • 1419-

    1419

    Pope Martin V grants Erik of Pomerania permission to set up a Danish university, albeit without a Faculty of Theology. For various reasons, the plans do not come to realisation.

  • 1475

    On 19 June 1475, Pope Sixtus IV grants Christian I permission to set up a university in Denmark during the latter's grand tour abroad (1474-75).

  • 1479

    After thorough preparations, the University of Copenhagen is inaugurated at a ceremony in the Church of Our Lady, 1 June 1479. The University opens with the traditional medieval faculties of theology, law, medicine and philosophy.

  • 1482

    The University Library is founded when the Vice-Chancellor, Peter Albertsen, donates a considerable number of books, the first of several subsequent donations.

  • 1500-

    1533-36

    The University ceases to function during the civil war known as "the Count's Feud".

  • 1536

    With the Reformation in 1536, the Lutheran Evangelical Church is established as the national church of Denmark and Norway at the recess of 30 October 1536. The University of Copenhagen is accorded responsibility for training the Danish and Norwegian clergy.

  • 1537

    The University resumes its activities in the Church of Our Lady. It takes over the sizeable residence of the Bishop of Zealand, which stands opposite the church.

  • 1539

    The extremely comprehensive University Charter of 10 June 1539 sets the frameworks that will form the basis for the activities of the University for the next 200 years. Fifteen permanent chairs are established, all in traditional medieval subjects. At the same time, a major estate and other sources of revenue are conferred upon the University.

  • 1563

    The Rector, deans and tenured lecturers are constituted as the Senate. This body retains ultimate responsibility for management of the University for the next 400 years.

  • 1569

    Frederik II founds Kommunitetet, a major scholarship foundation, on 25 June 1569. The foundation serves two meals a day at the University - initially to 100 students, later 120. Four scholarships are also set up for trips abroad, which would have major significance for the future education of the University's professors.

  • 1571

    Frederik II bestows a new estate upon the University, 11 September 1571.

  • 1600-

    1618-23

    Christian IV sets up the Collegium Regium, colloquially known as Regensen, which provides housing for the 120 students who receive the Kommunitet scholarship.

  • 1620

    Ole Worm founds his Museum Wormianum, a collection of natural history, archaeological and ethnographic objects, which became Denmark's first systematically assembled museum collection for academic study purposes.

  • 1621

    In an addendum to the University Charter, Christian IV introduces several important reforms and establishes new chairs, 18 May 1621.

  • 1630-31

    Christian IV expands the University's estates and creates two new professorships.

  • 1636

    A new professor in history and geography constitutes the first enduring addition to the University's academic range since the Middle Ages.

  • 1642

    The University's new observatory opens in the Round Tower.

  • 1650

    Thomas Bartholin publishes his discovery of the lymphatic system.

  • 1654

    The University Library is relocated to the room above the new Trinity Church behind the Round Tower.

  • 1656

    On the anniversary of the founding of the University (1 June), Trinity Church is inaugurated as the University church. The University Library is relocated to the space above the hall of the church.

  • 1661-64

    Frederik III founds the Royal Library.

  • 1667-69

    In his two theses, Niels Stensen establishes the modern science of geology.

  • 1676

    Ole Rømer presents his discovery of the speed of light to the Académie Royale in Paris, 21 November 1676.

  • 1700-

    1707

    The University's first actual Master's degree in Theology is introduced in August 1707.

  • 1728

    The catastrophic fire of 20-23 October 1728, which demolished more than 60% of Copenhagen to the ground, has a devastating impact on the University. The damage inflicted on the Library is particularly disastrous, with many Danish medieval history sources going up in smoke.

  • 1732

    The new Charter implements a number of necessary reforms, 31 March 1732.

  • 1736

    A proper Master's degree in Law and a more modest degree in Danish for lower-level legal officials are introduced in February 1736. For the first time, Danish law becomes a university subject.

  • 1742

    On the initiative of Professor Hans Gram (History), the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters is founded on 13 November 1742.

  • 1788

    The new and extremely comprehensive University Charter of 7 May 1788 forms the basis for the University's activities for the next 200 years. The main emphasis is on the University's role as an educational institution. One tangible outcome is the new Master's degree in each faculty (Master of Theology, Law, Medicine, etc.).

  • 1800-

    1807

    The British Bombardment of 2-5 September 1807 reduces more than half of the University's buildings to rubble.

  • 1819

    City architect Peter Malling is entrusted with the task of designing a new University building to replace the one that burned down in 1807. After lengthy negotiations between the government and the University, building work commences in 1829. This marks the start of a building programme that would provide the University of Copenhagen with modern buildings throughout the 19th century. The programme has continued ever since, with increasing intensity.

  • 1820

    Professor Hans Christian Ørsted (Physics) publishes his discovery of electromagnetism.

  • 1829

    The Polytechnic College is set up by H.C. Ørsted, who serves as its first director.

  • 1836

    The University's new main building is inaugurated on 13 October 1839.

  • 1842

    The Academy of Surgeons and the Faculty of Medicine merge to form the Faculty of Medical Science.

  • 1848

    With the introduction of a degree in political science (economics), the Faculty of Law becomes the Faculty of Law and Political Science.

  • 1850

    The sciences are separated from the Faculty of Philosophy to form an independent faculty for mathematics and science.

  • 1861

    Architect Daniel Herholt's groundbreaking building in Fiolstræde is taken into service by the Library. After two years of work, architect Christian Hansen completes a new observatory on the former city ramparts.

  • 1871

    Christian Hansen completes the construction of the University's new zoological museum on Krystalgade..

  • 1871-74

    The University's new Botanic Gardens are planted on the old ramparts.

  • 1877

    The first female student, Nielsine Nielsen, is enrolled in the Faculty of Medicine.

  • 1888

    The University's Geology Museum opens on the corner of Ø. Voldgade and Sølvgade.

  • 1900-

    1903

    Titular Professor of Medicine, Niels Finsen, is awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

  • 1920

    Professor of Physiology August Krogh is awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology, and starts Danish production of insulin.

  • 1922

    Niels Bohr, Professor of Theoretical Physics, is awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.

  • 1926

    Professor of Pathological Anatomy Johannes Fibiger is awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

  • 1940-45

    During the German occupation of Denmark, the University manages to hold most of its classes and conduct research. Several teachers and students play an active role in the resistance.

  • 1943

    George de Hevesy receives the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

  • 1960

    After steady growth, the number of students rise to approx. 6,000, a figure that quadruples over the next decade.

  • 1968

    Students demonstrate against poor study conditions at the University, and against what they see as old-fashioned and undemocratic governance. The government initiates a reform process, which in 1970, for the first time, leads to an Act governing the universities in Copenhagen, Aarhus and Odense. One outcome is unprecedented, decentralised and democratic autonomy, which enables non-professorial lecturers and students to influence the way their institutions are run.

  • 1973

    The University Act is amended, e.g. to provide non-academic staff with a voice at management level. The Act is also extended to cover all Danish universities. The Faculty of Legal and Political Science is renamed the Faculty of Social Sciences. The Faculty of Philosophy becomes the Faculty of Humanities. The Faculty of Mathematics and Science becomes the Faculty of Science.

  • 1975

    Professors Aage Bohr and Ben Mottelson are awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.

  • 1977

    Numerus clausus, which was introduced for medicine in 1976, is extended to all higher education.

  • 1992

    A new amendment to the University Act strengthens the executive management and restricts staff and student influence. The Copenhagen School of Dentistry and the Faculty of Medicine are incorporated into the Faculty of Health Sciences.

  • 1993

    The subject Law leaves the Faculty of Social Sciences, and the Faculty of Law is established.

  • 1997

    Denmark's College of Physical Education becomes part of the Faculty of Science, as the Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences.

  • 2000-

    2003

    A new University Act represents a significant break with the previous form of governance. The elected Senate is abolished and replaced by a board with a majority of external members and only modest representation for staff and students. Elected figures are replaced by appointees at all levels.

  • 2007

    The Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University and the Danish University of Pharmaceutical Sciences are incorporated into the University of Copenhagen as the Faculty of Life Sciences and Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, respectively.

  • 2012

    Four of the University's eight faculties (Faculty of Science, Faculty of Life Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences and faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences) merge into two large faculties: The new faculty of Science and the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences.

  • 2017

    The third and last building project at South Campus is taken into use by the Faculties of Law and Theology, which both vacate their historical locations in the city centre.