“The Regimentation of Chemical Education in Nazi Germany”

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A talk by Jeffrey Johnson

For more than 40 years, until 1939, chemical education in Germany was self-regulated by an organization called the Association of Laboratory Directors at German Universities (Verband der Laboratoriumsvorstände an deutschen Hochschulen), which collectively determined the guidelines for the predoctoral qualifying examination and issued unofficial certificates to students who passed. In 1939, however, the Reich Ministry of Education dissolved the association and issued the first official national guidelines for chemical education, which were further refined during the early years of World War II. Along with this change came the first officially recognized certifying examination for university chemists, conferring the title Diplom-Chemiker (certified chemist), an innovation carried over into the postwar era. But this long-desired official recognition of the German chemical profession was by no means an unmixed blessing. This talk discussed the educational reforms as the final step in the regimentation of the German chemical profession and its integration into the militarized structure of National Socialist technology in preparation for war, a process fraught with negative implications for the quality of German chemical education.

Jeffrey Johnson has taught at the State University of New York at Binghamton and since 1986 at Villanova University, where he is currently a professor of history. His research and publications have focused on the history of chemists, chemical institutions, and the chemical industry in Germany during the period from the late 19th century through World War II. In 2011 he succeeded Christoph Meinel as president of the Commission on the History of Modern Chemistry in the Division of the History of Science and Technology of the International Union of the History and Philosophy of Science. Johnson received his Ph.D. in modern European history from Princeton University with a dissertation (which became his first book, The Kaiser’s Chemists [1990]), on the founding of the chemical Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes in pre–World War I Germany.