Small compartment

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Independent academic subjects with a small number of chairs are named as small subjects in German university policy and university research. Not every subject corresponds to a course of the same name, since small subjects can also offer joint teaching within the framework of joint courses. The number of students is not relevant for the assignment.

The spectrum of small subjects ranges from subjects such as Vietnam Studies with a single professorship in Germany to Ancient History with 75.5 professorships at 53 university locations.

Small subjects are mainly found in the humanities and cultural sciences, but can be located in all faculties (for example the small subjects astronomy , astrophysics , computational linguistics , gerontology , paleontology or metal forming ). In 2015, 20 percent of the minor subjects in Baden-Württemberg were in the natural sciences.

Small subjects are colloquially or with derogatory intent also called orchid subjects .

The list of small subjects gives an overview of the small subjects .

Delimitation of the small subjects

The Small Subjects Unit uses the following working definition for “small subject” as the basis for mapping small subjects, with the help of which small subjects can be distinguished from large subjects and from non-independent sub-disciplines. In the mapping, the associated professorships with their university locations and their institutional links from 1997 are shown for all small subjects in Germany.

A quantitative criterion based on the number of professorships per location is used to distinguish between small subjects and large and medium-sized subjects. According to this, a small subject has no more than three permanent professorships per university location, with up to two exceptions throughout Germany.

Since not every branch of science is an independent subject per se, it is necessary to distinguish subjects from non-independent sub-disciplines. The following five criteria are used for this:

  1. Self-image as an independent subject: The professors who represent the respective scientific branch at German universities see it as an independent subject.
  2. Specialist society: The respective branch of science has a national or international specialist society or, in exceptional cases, is clearly recognized as an independent subject by a superordinate specialist society.
  3. Trade journal: The respective branch of science has its own - national or international - relevant publication organs.
  4. Own open-ended professorships: German universities have their own professorships with specific denominations for each branch of science.
  5. Own courses / specializations: The respective branch of science is represented with its own courses or with clearly visible specializations (Bachelor / Master / Magister / Diploma / State Examination) at German universities.

History of science

Due to the strong historical dynamics of the scientific landscape, the term small subject can only be used fluently. It can change in the historical context, since it relationally grasps a relationship to major subjects . Its application to a particular subject is also dependent on the point in time of the examination, since subjects can grow, shrink, emerge, merge or disintegrate. Examples are the increase in the importance of physics since 1900, the growth of computer science since the 1970s, or the establishment of gender studies since the 1980s. Other previously independent subjects become sub-areas of new interdisciplinary specialist units and lose their independence.

Analysis and mapping

1970s and university reform

Due to the changing framework conditions at German universities, the discussion about the group of minor subjects began in the 1970s. As a result of increasing interest in studying with improved access conditions to the university since the 1950s, so-called mass subjects emerged , which were given special attention in terms of personnel and infrastructure as part of the university's expansion in the 1960s. The already existing small subjects did not participate in this growth and "stayed small".

In 1974 the German University Association published the first mapping of the small subjects at German universities. In the investigation 65 small compartments were identified. Twelve of them were in the natural sciences, eleven in medicine, theology, and law; and to assign the remaining 42 subjects to the humanities subjects.

2000s and Bologna reform

In the course of the Bologna reform , the situation of the minor subjects was discussed again, as the restructuring to a modular, two-stage study system for the minor subjects became a major challenge due to the limited teaching capacity. It was feared that the orientation of all courses on labor market relevance and a high density of mandatory courses would structurally overwhelm the small subjects. In the background of this fear was the disproportionately perceived dismantling of isolated and regionally scattered humanities and cultural studies professorships in the 1990s, as well as the associated discontinuation of established courses.

In 2005, on behalf of the University Rectors' Conference (HRK), a separate office on the subject of small subjects was set up in order to empirically develop a finding. Since 2007, the agency has been collecting retrospective data on the minor subjects.

The job was initially located at the University of Potsdam and was financed by the BMBF . The head of the office in Potsdam was the Slavist Norbert Franz . Since September 2012, mapping has been continued at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz under the direction of the philosopher of science Mechthild Dreyer and the sociologist Uwe Schmidt . The newly established Small Subjects department is supported by the Rhineland-Palatinate Ministry of Education, Science, Further Education and Culture .

The office mapped 151 courses at 81 universities as a minor subject. Of these, 111 so-called existing subjects and 40 newly added small subjects. The data collected are publicly available (see web links).

2010s and future program

The report of the expert commission on the situation of the small subjects in Baden-Württemberg to the Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts Baden-Württemberg (January 2015) offers an up-to-date overview of the situation of the small subjects in Baden-Württemberg . Small subjects are characterized here as 'structurally precarious', the important role of which in teaching, research and knowledge transfer is to be secured by a resilient and evaluated future program.

Scientific, research policy and social relevance

A distinction can be made between a scientific and a research policy or social relevance. The small subjects contribute to the profile of a university and hold potential for interdisciplinary cooperation across faculty boundaries, for international networking and for intercultural exchange. As a result, the minor subjects play an important role in setting up university-internal and cross-university interdisciplinary research programs or in implementing internationalization strategies. Small subjects that conduct research on old, smaller European or non-European languages ​​and cultures can be particularly useful for understanding current issues. They provide scientific background information on certain world regions or economic, political or current developments.


One example of the increased social interest in small subjects is the strengthening of bioinformatics .

Examples of interdisciplinary networking within a university with the clear involvement of small subjects can be found in various funding programs for institutional research, for example in special research areas or clusters of excellence of the DFG .


The term orchid compartment is used as a negative synonym for the small subjects . The name is derived from a supposedly high financing cost with at the same time little practical benefit. In this way, the small subject is assigned too little value for science and society, which is dispensable as a luxury good.


At the University of Basel , the subjects of gender studies and sociology as well as ethnology and cultural anthropology will only be represented as one course from the fall semester 2014. "The University of Zurich is also bringing together minor subjects: Indology , Islamic Studies , Japanese Studies , Sinology and Gender Studies are now combined to form the Asia-Orient Institute." Anna Gielas has published an article on this in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.


  • German University Association (Hrsg.): The small subjects. A structural and functional analysis of the situation at universities in the Federal Republic of Germany prepared by the University Association on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Education and Science. 2 volumes. Bonn 1974/75.
  • Norbert Franz : The small subjects at German universities. Inventory and mapping (=  contributions to university policy . Volume 2008.4 ). University Rectors' Conference , Bonn 2008, ISBN 978-3-938738-50-4 .
  • Small interdisciplinary and international subjects at German universities. Results of an HRK project. Document of the University Rectors' Conference, 2012. ( online ; PDF; 2.1 MB)
  • Mechthild Dreyer , Uwe Schmidt, Klaus Dicke : Humanities and social sciences at the university of tomorrow. Inside and outside perspectives. Springer VS, Wiesbaden 2014, ISBN 978-3-658-05517-2 .
  • Ministry for Science, Research and Art Baden-Württemberg (Ed.): Expert commission on the situation of the small subjects in Baden-Württemberg. Recommendations for a future program 'Small Subjects' in Baden-Württemberg. Stuttgart 2015. Editors: Markus Hilgert and Michaela Böttner. online (PDF; 1.6 MB)

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Vietnam Studies at the University of Hamburg. In: Portal Small Subjects - Mapping. From, accessed on February 1, 2019.
  2. Overview of professorships and locations of the minor subjects: Ancient History. In: Portal Small Subjects - Mapping. From, accessed on February 1, 2019.
  3. Expert commission "Small subjects in Baden-Württemberg". In: Ministry for Science, Research and Art Baden-Württemberg - Universities & Studies. At, accessed on February 1, 2019.
  4. [1] Retrieved November 14, 2018.
  5. [2] Retrieved November 14, 2018.
  6. Final report of the Potsdamer Arbeitsstelle Kleine Fächer, accessed on April 16, 2019.
  7. ^ Final report Small subjects 2012, p. 24 (PDF).
  8. ^ Forum of the University Association (Ed.): The small subjects. A structural and functional analysis of the situation at universities in the Federal Republic of Germany prepared by the University Association on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Education and Science . Bonn 1974/75.
  9. Katharina Bahlmann, Anna Cramme, Mechthild Dreyer, Uwe Schmidt: The self-image of the small (humanities) subjects compared over time. In: Dieter Lamping (Ed.): Spiritual Science Today. The view of the compartments (= Kröner's pocket edition. Volume 441). Alfred Kröner Verlag, Stuttgart 2015, ISBN 978-3-520-44101-0 , p. 379.
  10. Final report on small subjects 2012, p. 24.
  11. Katharina Bahlmann, Anna Cramme, Mechthild Dreyer, Uwe Schmidt: The self-image of the small (humanities) subjects compared over time. In: Dieter Lamping (ed.): Humanities today. The view of the subjects . 2015, pp. 376-399.
  12. see the homepage of the Small Subjects Unit at the University of Mainz , accessed November 14, 2018.
  13. Expert commission on the situation of small subjects in Baden-Württemberg (ed.) (2015): Recommendations for a future program 'small subjects' in Baden-Württemberg. Editor: Markus Hilgert u. Michaela Boettner. ( Online as PDF )
  14. see bioinformatics [3]
  15. For example the Heidelberg Collaborative Research Center 933 "Material Text Cultures"
  16. Presentation of and rejection of the criticism by the DFG Senate Commission for Cultural Studies, December 26, 2000
  17. Resolution of the Rectorate No. 13.01.2 of 08.01.13. Revision of the curriculum of the Faculty of Philosophy and History. New enactments of curricula. (PDF; 34 kB) University of Basel , January 9, 2013, accessed on March 3, 2014 .
  18. Asia-Orient Institute. University of Zurich , February 27, 2014, accessed on March 3, 2014 : “By combining the five subjects of Indology, Islamic Studies, Japanese Studies, Sinology and Gender Studies in a joint institute structure, Zurich's Asian focus should become even more visible inside and outside the university. "
  19. see [4] , accessed November 14, 2018.