Abstract Background Image Banner
#35 Overall Influence

Leiden University

University in Leiden, Netherlands
By James Barham, PhD

Leiden University, though a relative latecomer to the European scene, is the oldest university in what is now the Netherlands, and—to put things in proper perspective—is more than 50 years older than Harvard, he oldest university in the US. In other words, from an international perspective, it is quite a venerable institution.

Leiden University was founded by William I, Prince of Orange (also known as “William the Silent”), the leader of the Dutch Revolt against Spanish Habsburg rule over the Low Countries. The northern, heavily Protestant portion of the Low Countries, corresponding roughly to the modern Netherlands, broke away and gained its independence as the United Provinces in 1581. (The Dutch-speaking, but heavily Catholic, southern provinces of Antwerp, Brabant, and Flanders remained under foreign rule for two more centuries.)

It is said that William chose to place the first university on independent Dutch soil in Leiden to reward that city for the heroic defense it had mounted the previous year against a Spanish attack.

The successful Dutch Revolt inaugurated what is known to historians as the Dutch Golden Age, during which the Netherlands, despite its small size, became one of the most prosperous and culturally most advanced nations in Europe. Leiden University played a leading role in the production of this “embarrassment of riches”—to quote the title a famous study of the period by the noted British historian, Simon Schama.

Among the many eminent humanist scholars who were attracted to Leiden already during the sixteenth century, we may mention:

  • Philologist, philosopher, and champion of the revival of ancient skepticism, Justus Lipsius
  • Great philologist and pioneer of the study of Middle Eastern languages and history, Joseph Justus Scaliger
  • dissident Protestant theologian, Jacobus Arminius (Jakob Hermanszoon), founder of Arminianism

During the seventeenth century, Leiden University was home to such intellectual giants as:

  • Exiled Frenchman, René Descartes, the father of the modern era in philosophy
  • Distinguished classical scholar and theologian, Gerardus Vossius (Gerrit Janszoon Vos)
  • English physician, antiquarian, and man of letters, Thomas Browne
  • Highly influential political philosopher and proponent of natural law, Hugo Grotius (Huig de Groot)
  • Great Jewish philosopher, Baruch Spinoza
  • Internationally renowned physicist, mathematician, and astronomer, Christiaan Huygens
  • medical scientist hailed as the “Dutch Hippocrates,” Herman Boerhaave

The great Rembrandt (Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn)—one of the most extraordinary artists of all time—studied for a short time at Leiden when a young boy of 14.

During the eighteenth century, Leiden-connected scholars include:

  • Boerhaave’s Swiss-German pupil, the physiologist and poet, Albrecht von Haller, sometimes known as the “father of physiology”
  • Physicist, Pieter van Musschenbroek
  • German-born, turned–French philosopher, infamous atheist, and author of the scandalous Système de la nature, the Baron d’Holbach (Paul-Henri Thiry, né Paul Heinrich Dietrich)
  • English novelist and satirist, Henry Fielding
  • Famous Dutch philosophe and pioneering philosopher of aesthetics, François Hemsterhuis

Finally, in the twentieth century, Leiden University has been associated with some 16 Nobel Prize laureates, including:

Physics

  • Johannes Diderik van der Waals
  • Hendrik Antoon Lorentz
  • Pieter Zeeman
  • Enrico Fermi
  • Heike Kamerlingh Onnes

Chemistry

  • Jacobus Henricus van’t Hoff—chemistry

Physiology or Medicine

  • Niels Jerne
  • Willem Einthoven
  • Niko Tinbergen
  • Albert Szent-Györgyi

The Fields Medalist, Manjul Bhargava, also taught here for a time.

Other famous Leiden-connected people not covered above include:

  • Sixth president of the United States, John Quincy Adams
  • Twentieth-century Austrian physicist, Paul Ehrenfest
  • Contemporary Somali-born, former Dutch politician, and international women’s rights activist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali

From Wikipedia

Leiden University is a public research university in Leiden, Netherlands. Founded in 1575 by William, Prince of Orange as a reward to the city of Leiden for its defense against Spanish attacks during the Eighty Years' War, it is the oldest institution of higher education in the Netherlands, as well as one of the most reputed.

Source: Wikipedia

What is Leiden University known for?

Our answer to this is to show you the disciplines in which a school's faculty and alumni have had the highest historical influence. A school may be influential in a discipline even if they do not offer degrees in that area. We've organized two lists to show where they are influential and offer corresponding degrees, and where they are influential through scholarship although they don't offer degrees in the disciplines.

Top areas of influence with degrees offered

#11 World Rank
Physics
#26 World Rank
Mathematics
#28 World Rank
Philosophy
#37 World Rank
Biology
#26 World Rank
Law
#67 World Rank
Literature
#98 World Rank
Medical
#72 World Rank
Chemistry
#39 World Rank
Religious Studies
#71 World Rank
History
#114 World Rank
Political Science
#86 World Rank
Economics
#141 World Rank
Computer Science
#121 World Rank
Psychology
#100 World Rank
Communications
#346 World Rank
Engineering
#264 World Rank
Education
#480 World Rank
Business
#88 World Rank
Earth Sciences
#101 World Rank
Anthropology
#216 World Rank
Sociology
#212 World Rank
Criminal Justice
#770 World Rank
Social Work
#1806 World Rank
Nursing

Influential People

Who are Leiden University's Most influential alumni?

Leiden University 's most influential alumni faculty include professors and professionals in the fields of Physics, Mathematics, and Law

Ewine van Dishoeck

Ewine van Dishoeck

Dutch astronomer and chemist

John Sydenham Furnivall

British scholar

Boudewijn Sirks

Dutch academic lawyer and papyrologist

Ulrik Huber

Ulrik Huber

Dutch philosopher

Gustaaf Adolf Frederik Molengraaff

Gustaaf Adolf Frederik Molengraaff

Dutch scientist

Georg Marcgrave

Georg Marcgrave

German naturalist and astronomer

Pieter Rijke

Pieter Rijke

Dutch physicist

Tatyana Pavlovna Ehrenfest

Tatyana Pavlovna Ehrenfest

Dutch mathematician

Franciscus Bernardus Jacobus Kuiper

Dutch linguist

Frans Michel Penning

Frans Michel Penning

Dutch physicist

David Gregory

David Gregory

Scottish astronomer and mathematician

Willem 's Gravesande

Willem 's Gravesande

Dutch physicist