History of Romance Philology at the LMU Munich

Deutsche Version: Geschichte der Romanistik an der LMU München

Ingolstadt, Landshut and the Early Munich Years

Teaching Language Skills

The Bavarian State University, renamed in 1802 to the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, was founded in Ingolstadt in 1472 and was originally known as the Hohe Schule of Ingolstadt. The university was moved to Landshut in 1800 and finally to Munich in 1826.

The first language courses offered were French, Spanish and Italian, and are documented as early as 1625. This means that the university is among the first institutes of higher education in any German-speaking country to offer classes in modern foreign languages. However, no scientific study of languages was intended. These classes were originally meant to teach practical language skills however, mostly in classes taught by so-called Sprachmeister; scientific study of these languages was not yet considered. In Ingolstadt, as at other Universities of the time, foreign language study, particularly of French and Italian, was pursued in the tradition of aristocratic academies: it was one component of the education of members of the gentry and, later, the bourgeoisie, along with riding, fencing and dancing.

On the Way to Romance Philology

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the scientific study of Romance languages joined language instruction as an academic component at the university. However, this was not initially undertaken by the teachers of Romance languages, but rather in the context of a comparative philology (of the middle ages) developed by Konrad Hofmann, a scholar of Old German. He succeeded his teacher, Johann Andreas Schmeller, initially serving as an untenured professor of Indo-European languages and literature starting in 1853 before becoming tenured professor of Old German language and literature in 1856. Previous to his appointment, Hofmann had already studied Old French and Old Occitan in addition to Old High German, Middle High German and Old English and was considered an equal scholar of both Old Germanic and Old Romance languages. His teaching and research were based on a comparative perspective, which led to him holding a double professorship in Old Germanic and Old Romance languages and literature beginning in 1869. Years before this, the literary scholar Paul Heyse, who received an appointment at Munich by King Maximilian II in 1854, was given a lectureship in Romance literature, but never chose to exercise it.

The Institute Itself

Romance Studies at Munich from the Founding of the Institute until the Time of National Socialism

After the death of Breymann in 1910, 38-year-old Karl Vossler (then usually written Voßler), who had been a professor at Würzburg since 1909, received an appointment at Munich in the summer semester of 1911 and took over as director of the Romance language department. The department shared an institute with the English studies department, which was led at the time by Josef Schick (who had been a professor of English philology since 1896). Due to the growth of the institute’s number of students and staff and severe space limitations — not the least of which were caused by the ever-growing new-philological library, which, at the time of Breymann’s death contained around 3,000 volumes — Schick and Vossler applied to have the departments separated into two distinct institutes in July 1912.

The Institute during the Nazi Years

The 1930s marked a turn of tide for the institute, as it did for all units within the LMU and indeed, at all German universities. After 1933, the fate of the institute was no longer in the hands of those who in the previous decade had made it into one of the most important sites of Romance studies in Germany. Many of those teaching here became victims of the Nazi regime, particularly Leo Jordan, who escaped the Nazi terror through suicide. Vossler was deemed “politically unacceptable” by the Nazis and, consequently, was no longer allowed to teach after 1937. (Officially this was termed as “put on leave” and in the course register of the time he was listed as a member of the faculty but labelled as “not teaching”.) Vossler’s students, Hans Rheinfelder and Franz Rauhut, who had been active at the institute since the 1920s, were able to continue instructing; however they were subjected to harassment by the University, which by than had been brought into line with the Nazis. During this time Gerhard Rohlfs and Theodor Elwert were appointed at the institute.

The Post-War Years

After the liberation of Munich, the history of Romance studies there was closely linked to that of the LMU. After some initial difficulties, operations at the university were resumed during the summer semester. At this time, Elwert was suspended, Rohlfs was rehabilitated as one of the first philologists at Munich and stayed on as a professor, while Rheinfelder was named as secondary head of the chair. It was only Vossler’s willingness to act as interim rector of the university until an ideologically unencumbered rector could be found that allowed the Munich university to make a new start.


Ludwigstraße 25 (1949)

From the Eve of Student Unrest in 1968 to the Founding of the Institute for Italian Philology

Romance Studies at the LMU was also to experience a structural upheaval in the coming years. Rohlfs retired in 1957, and four years later, he was succeeded by Hans Sckommodau. Rheinfelder retired in 1963 and was succeeded the next year by Alfred Noyer-Weidner. In addition, a third professorship was also established, which was filled by Helmut Stimm in 1965. Up to this point — on the eve of the events of 1968 — the chairs in Munich had been philologically oriented: both Rheinfelder and Rohlfs (just as their predecessors Breymann, Jordan, Lerch and Vossler) dedicated themselves equally to the study of literature and to linguistics. This was about to change: the 1968 reorganization of the faculties was a welcome breath of fresh air which changed the whole atmosphere of the Alma Mater Monacensis. Lastly on the initiative of Noyer-Weider, an independent Institute for Italian was founded in 1972 and structurally separated from the Institute for Romance Philology.

The Institute since the 1970s

The separation of the Institute for Romance Philology and the Institute for Italian Philology has, however, not meant a separation in terms of scientific collaboration, collegial tiess or working location. Both Italian and Romance Philology institutes have shared a building at Ludwigstraße 25 since the beginning of the 1970s. The building, built by Friedrich von Gärtner and completed in 1837, was formerly the institute for the blind and was remodelled for university use between 1968 and 1971. It housed the institute’s library and rooms for instruction, as well as spacious offices that were often lit late into the night, testifying to the zeal of their “inhabitants”. The scientific reputation of the institute since the 1970s was and is shaped by the work of notable figures in research, who have contributed and continue to contribute to the breadth of LMU’s Romance Philology spectrum with their varied interests and diversified areas of focus. Among them are Ilse Nolting-Hauff and Rainer Warning in the area of literary studies, as well as Wolf-Dieter Stempel and Wulf Oesterreicher in the field of linguistics. By 2015, both Institutes had moved to Schellingstraße 3 and 33 in order to provide space for the Philologicum, the long awaited library, shared among all fields of the schools for linguistic and literary studies, which opened in 2019.

Together, the two institutes represent the field of Romance studies in its full breadth: alongside Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Romanian, the LMU offers courses ranging from Catalan and Galician to Occitan and Sardinian.

Further information on those currently teaching at the Institute for Romance Philology can be found at