Skip to main content

A brief historical perspective

Jacob Ulfsson was born sometime in the 1430s, but we actually don’t know the exact year due to conflicting information.

However, we do know that he studied in Rostock in 1457 and was in the papal curia in Rome between 1465 and 1470. Following the passing of Jöns Bengtsson Oxenstierna, Pope Paul II appointed him Archbishop of Uppsala.

Ulfsson aimed to establish an educational institution for Catholic priests in the form of a Stadium Generale, inspired by older universities. After applying for this in Rome, Pope Sixtus IV issued a bull for its establishment on February 27, 1477. The Swedish Council approved the plans on July 2, and studies began on October 7 of the same year.

It was stipulated that teaching could cover theology, canonical (ecclesiastical) law, and philosophical subjects. Like the model Paris University, the institution could confer all academic degrees. It was also decided that students had to swear, at the rector’s hand, not to communicate anything from the teachings abroad that could be detrimental to the realm.

After 1515, there is no mention of Uppsala University in the sources until the end of the century. The bishop’s residence in Uppsala was burned down during internal conflicts in 1497 and 1521, and these events might have reduced the availability of books in the city.

With the Protestant Reformation, the university’s activities were significantly limited. The university’s Catholic-influenced early period was not appreciated by the then-first Protestant-minded king Gustav Vasa, who is nevertheless claimed to have studied there himself.

I can imagine how optimistic it was when Gustaf II Adolf revitalized and revived our dormant university through his generosity, attracting as many as 1000 students to Uppsala in 1630—a number that held until 1880 before rising again.

We can read about Olof Rudbeck, the first professor of practical medicine, and a respected polymath, who conducted what many call the first Swedish scientific discovery when he demonstrated the lymphatic system. He also redesigned the city’s network and reportedly stood on the roof of Gustavianum, directing firefighting efforts the night Uppsala burned in 1702.

I get a delightful image of the first female student, Betty Petters-son, being enrolled in the university in 1872. Twenty years later, the first female student association was formed in 1892, and in 1949, Gerd Enequist, a geographer, became the first female professor in Uppsala. Although Anna Paues had been the first female Swedish professor when appointed in 1934, she had no employ- ment at any university. Karolinska Institutet was also ahead of Uppsala when they appointed Nanna Swartz as a full professor in 1937, one of 23 in the college.

It’s easy to be inspired by Manne Siegbahn, who, despite his research success at Lund University, chose to leave for Uppsala and a professorship in 1922 when Uppsala offered better facilities and equipment funding. Just two years later, Manne received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his “discoveries and research in the field of X-ray spectroscopy.”

And there would be more Nobel Prizes to come. In 1926, The Svedberg received an award for his studies of dispersed systems, and in 1948, Svedberg’s disciple Arne Tiselius received his award for research in electrophoresis and his studies of the complex nature of serum proteins.

Even today, knowledge plays a significant role in Uppsala’s future. All development can be traced in history, and if we look ahead, that’s where we find the answers to what will make us successful tomorrow. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that we should search in the same soil for the experiences that will shape to- morrow’s successes but perhaps in the borderlands of the known world.

Uppsala – where legacy meets curiosity.

Björn Arvidsson
Managing Director
+46 (0)70-994 36 06