The Notgemeinschaft as a new form of research funding

The Notgemeinschaft represented a new form of research funding in that, unlike competing foundations, it supported all fields of science and the humanities. All researchers could secure their own financial resources for their projects after a successful review process which was undertaken by an elected committee in an open procedure. This enabled early career researchers to research even at larger institutes with many hierarchical structures.

The Notgemeinschaft succeeded in establishing itself as a “solid pillar in the German research landscape”. Several favourable circumstances made this possible.

The emergence of the Notgemeinschaft and the shifting of government research funding from the German states to the Reich were complementary processes. In the Reich, which had been newly established in 1871, at the level of the individual states universities were responsible for research and teaching and academies for research groups of a long-term nature. Towards the end of the 19th century, however, the growing significance of science and technology for industry and also the increase in chemical and biological research demanded additional scope for science. The state became an important factor in their funding when it established Imperial institutes that conducted application-oriented scientific work. The best-known example is the Imperial Physical Technical Institute, founded in 1887.

The founding of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society in 1911 responded to demands both from natural science circles and industry to establish extra-university institutions for basic research. Societies were a new phenomenon at this time, since self-governance and combination financing – salaries paid by the state and the remainder by private funders – were completely new.

The establishment of the Notgemeinschaft therefore continued the trend of establishing research organisations above the level of the individual states. By providing research funds, over time the Notgemeinschaft ultimately assumed the duties of a government science organisation in the Reich.

The reason for the founding of the Notgemeinschaft and the timing of its founding were likewise particularly critical to its successful establishment. It was precisely the dire situation of the post-war years that provided the opportunity to create a comprehensive self-governing institution covering virtually all institutions and all disciplines.

The group of individuals dating back to the Kaiserreich was also important. The networks that had formed around Friedrich Schmidt-Ott, Fritz Haber and Adolf von Harnack even before 1914 made it possible to pool the interests of established science and scholarship. It was Friedrich Schmidt-Ott, more than anyone, who was able to call on extensive connections with researchers, civil servants and politicians thanks to his position as the Prussian Education Minister.

Further information

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