History of the Institute

The Beginnings


The first Sorbian language teaching began at the Alma Mater Lipsiensis in 1716 with the foundation of the Sorbian seminary  “Societas Lusatorum Sorabica” by a number of Protestant Sorbian students. Printed treatises on the Wendish (Upper Sorbian) language and a handwritten newspaper appeared alongside linguistic and liturgical exercises. A separate academic department under the name “Sorabia” was created in 1815 after the separation of the “Sorabicum” to become a special department (seminar) within the “Lusatian Theological Society”. As a result of the publication of “Sserska nowina” by Handrij Zejler and Hendrich August Krygar, it was now possible to bring out their own works, folk songs and collections of proverbs. In this way the members of “Sorabia” bequeathed an important fund of material for research into Sorbian.


In 1842, the Sorb Jan Pětr Jordan was appointed to the University as Lector and Doctor for Slavonic languages and literatures and in 1870 the Chair of Comparative Slavonic Studies, with particular reference to the Wendish language, was created. When August Leskien became Professor of Slavonic Philology in 1876, he acquired an interest in Sorbian linguistics, and lectured on Upper and Lower Sorbian grammar. The Slovene Matija Murko, Leskien’s successor and Professor of Slavonic Philology from 1917 to 1920, also became interested in Sorbian Studies and proposed the foundation of the post of Lector for Sorbian in Leipzig. He did not succeed at first, but was able to install Josef Páta as the first Professor of Sorbian Language and Literature at the Charles University in Prague in 1933.


Max Vasmer occupied the Slavonic chair at the University of Leipzig from 1921 to 1925 and published some interesting works on Sorbian themes. Karl Heinrich Mayer, Indo-Germanist and classical philologist, offered lectures from 1921 to 1927 on the historical grammar of the Sorbian language, on Sorbian folk songs and text analyses as a private lecturer. Reinhold Trautmann, the holder of the Chair for Slavonic Studies in the 1930s, also had great sympathy for the Sorbs and held lectures on the history of the Sorbian language.


After 1945


The year 1946 marked a major change for Sorbian Studies. The teacher training institute was founded in Radibor, thus re-establishing pedagogical and academic activity. After the passing of the Sorbian Law in 1948 in Saxony intensive efforts were made to establish an institution for Sorbian Studies at university level. Reinhold Olesch, the Professor Ordinarius of Slavonic Philology and Director of the Slavonic Institute at the University of Leipzig founded the post of Lector for the Upper Sorbian language in 1949. Michał Nawka was appointed as a lecturer to this post. At the beginning fifteen students were taught for 8 hours a week in two courses. The Sorbian student organization, “Sorabija”, which was fundamentally different in its programme from the ‘Wendish Theological Society” and “Sorabia”, but was completely committed to their traditions, was created in the same year.


Our institution was founded on 6th September 1951 at the University of Leipzig under the name “Sorbian Institute”. At that time it consisted of two departments: “Language and Literature” was linked with the Slavonic Institute and the “Department of Sorbian History” worked together with the Historical Institute of  the History Department. Therefore, at the beginning it was primarily teachers, Slavists and historians who were educated here. After the Second Higher Education Reform of the GDR in 1968 the Institute was renamed as the “Institute for Sorbian Studies”. Following the First Higher Education Reform, Pawoł Nowotny became the temporary head of the Sorbian Institute from 1951-1953. In 1955, Pawoł Nedo was named Director and when his acting professorship with responsibility for the teaching of Sorbian folklore was made permanent at the beginning of the academic year 1960/61, he was officially confirmed in the post of Director. Thanks to his support, the area of combined study, Cultural Studies with Sorbian Studies, was introduced in 1981. In 1964, Heinz Schuster-Šewc took over the Chair and post of Director. After that, the historian Jan Brankačk took over the function of Director from time to time.


After 1989


The Institute for Sorbian Studies obtained its present structure after the political changes of 1989, with structural changes and a reduction in staff. After Ronald Lötzsch and a number of temporary heads (Wolfgang Sperber, Wolfgang F. Schwarz, Gerhild Zybatow, Tadeusz Lewaszkiewicz) Eduard Werner took over the professorship in 2003 and became administrative head.

Further information here (PDF).



last modified: 20.03.2018