The History of Uppsala University

On Floor 2 of Gustavianum is the permanent exhibition about the early history of the University, from its foundation in 1477 to the end of the 18th century. On 22 April 2017 the exhibition Aspiring to Precision, about the scientific measurement revolution of the 19th century, opened on the same floor.

Uppsala University was founded in 1477, as the first university in Scandinavia. The students were few to begin with, no more than ten to fifteen, and were probably taught in the old chapter house that stood south of the cathedral.

The lecture notes of Olaus Johannis Guto
Photo: Gustavianum

One of the first students at the university was Olaus Johannis Guto. Thanks to his preserved lecture notes we have a clear picture of what the students were taught. The lectures were in Latin and the students wrote down what the lecturer read out (Latin ”lector” means ”reader”).

After the Reformation, the work of Uppsala University gradually ground to a halt. The Catholic Church was no longer there to support it, and neither the new archbishop nor the king showed any interest. However, by the end of the 16th century attitudes towards higher education began to change, and a meeting in Uppsala in 1593 marked the beginning of the second chapter in the history of the university.

Gustav II Adolf
Gustavus Adolphus
Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

At the time when Sweden was developing into a great European power, King Gustavus Adolphus decided to donate a large proportion of his inherited estates to Uppsala University, thereby creating an economic foundation for its work. The annual yield from these properties not only covered the salary costs and other expenses; they also generated a surplus that secured the long-term future of the university.

During the reign of Queen Kristina, the Swedish state continued to support the university. The queen had a vision of developing Uppsala into a magnificent centre of learning, able to provide a perfect education in

Olof Rudbeck
Olof Rudbeck
Photo: Gustavianum

The University benefitted from the presence of one of the foremost researchers and teachers of the 17th century, Olof Rudbeck the elder. Rudbeck discovered and mapped the lymphatic system as early as 1650, but then expanded his scientific interests to include history, archaeology and botany. During the years 1662-63 he had the Anatomical Theatre built on the roof of Gustavianum.


The thermometer of Anders Celsius
Photo: Gustavianum

As Sweden’s period as a great power ended during the early 18th century, the political and cultural climate changed. The wars were over but the country needed to be built up from its foundations. This process of rebuilding was guided by the principle of economic utility. The universities were also expected to contribute useful knowledge. The natural sciences developed at such a pace that Uppsala became world-leading in several areas. The University created new professorships in chemistry, physics, and national economics. This was the time when great figures such Carl Linnaeus, Anders Celsius and Samuel Klingenstierna worked and taught at Uppsala University.