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Obituary for Wolfgang Mitter †

The German Institute for International Educational Research (DIPF) sadly announces the death of Professor Dr. Dr. h.c. Wolfgang Mitter, who died on October 23, 2014 at the age of 87 years following a brief period of serious illness.

In 1972, Wolfgang Mitter was appointed to the Institute in Frankfurt am Main. He chaired its former Department for General and Comparative Educational Science until 1998. From 1978 until 1981 and again from 1987 until 1995, Mitter was Director of the Institute. From 1975 until 2007, Mitter was also a lecturing Professor at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main.

Mitter was born in 1927 in Trautenau (Northern Bohemia), today Trutnov in the Czech Republic. As an adolescent, Wolfgang Mitter had to endure the War, imprisonment and the loss of his home country; yet at the same time he also experienced human kindness. “In such circumstances, you get to know the good and the bad particularly well“, he once remarked upon looking back. He came to the state of Hesse as a so-called re-settler, and later studied Eastern European History and Russian at Johannes-Gutenberg University in Mainz. After acquiring a doctoral degree in History from Freie Universität Berlin, he first worked as a secondary school teacher (Gymnasium) and head of subject in Kassel. He thus  made his way into teacher education. Prior to his appointment to DIPF, Mitter worked as Professor for General Education at the University of Lüneburg from 1964 until 1972.

Mitter particularly deserves credit for his outstanding work in the area of comparative educational science. He dedicated is studies to the comparison of education systems, focusing on Europe. At a time when the German Democratic Republic as well as the Eastern neighbouring countries were largely unknown territory also from a scientific point of view, Mitter belonged to the few researchers concerned with aspects of education of the region. He was also interested in countries outside Europe: for instance, he studied the education systems of the United States of America and Canada, Japan, Korea and China, Indonesia and South East Asia. Throughout his life, he established close relationships with educational researchers in many parts of the world. 

Wolfgang Mitter was highly acclaimed in Germany and abroad, owing to his scientific achievement but also his role as a mediator. He was President of the Comparative education Society in Europe, of the World Council of Comparative Education Societies and the World Association for Educational Research. He was appointed a membership by the Academia Europea and the Russian Academy for Education. Wolfgang Mitter was honorary member of the German Society for Educational Science (DGfE), the German UNESCO Commission, the Pedagogical Faculty at Charles University, Prague, the Comparative Education Society in Europe, the World Association for Educational Research and the Mediterranean Society of Comparative Education. He received the Ordre Léopold II from the Kingdom of Belgium and the Goethe medal from the state of Hesse. Mitter was awarded a medal on the occasion of Charles University celebrating 650 years, and the silver medal of the University. Given his very own background, this honour meant a lot to him.

Mitter managed to overcome barriers in other areas, too: the re-structuring of DIPF following German unification counts among his relevant science organizational endeavours. At the time, the aim was to integrate the Central Library of the Academy for Pedagogical Science from the GDR , together with a group of scientists employed at the Academy. The success of this task is largely due to his engagement. It was thus possible to transform the former Central Library and establish the Research Library for the History of Education (BBF) at the DIPF location in Berlin. Ever since, the BBF has offered an excellent infrastructure to researchers, making its stock and services available to scientists interested in the history of education. As a historian, he was probably particularly pleased in this regard.

Even after receiving his emeritus status in 1995, Mitter closely liaised with DIPF. He did not only remain acting director of his department for another three years. He was also active in other ways, visiting the Institute nearly every day to conduct scientific work. He gave talks, prepared papers, went on research trips at home and abroad, and liaised with colleagues in a network spanning the world. They highly appreciated the hospitality and warm welcome offered by him and his wife Sylvia. Until very recently, colleagues working at the Institute as well as his former staff benefited likewise.

Wolfgang Mitter introduced the scientific world of education to DIPF. At the same time, he achieved in making DIPF known to the world of educational science. He thereby sharpened the profile of our Institute. All the colleagues at the Institute highly appreciate his work.

Frankfurt am Main, October 30, 2014

last modified Nov 03, 2014