Johannes Gutenberg University (JGU) was originally founded in Mainz in 1477, shortly after the city's most famous son had revolutionized printing techniques with the introduction of movable letters. With the sanction of Pope Sixtus IV, Mainz elector and archbishop Diether von Isenburg opened the university which developed into one of the leading academic institutions in Europe until the intervention of the French Revolution. The battle of ideas and military troops from France and Germany, which Johann Wolfgang von Goethe observed on the Prussian side in 1793 and documented in his journal "Die Belagerung von Mainz" [The Occupation of Mainz] (1820-22), led to the foundation of the Mainz Republic, the first short-lived democratic government in Germany. The advent of Napoleon and the establishment of French rule in the city meant an end to the university in 1798, except for the school of medicine which closed in 1823.
Part of the re-opening of the University was the foundation of Comparative Literature, the first one in Germany, funded by the French. With Book Studies and Indology, it forms the recently renamed Institute for World Literature and Written Media. The Obama Institute for Transnational American Studies, which officially opened in February 2017, continues the research record on North America established since the foundation of the first chair in 1952 and pursues the transnational collaboration of a global community in line with the former American president's liberal ideas of multi-ethnic societies, interreligious communication, and the recognition of diversity worldwide, which are based on Barack Obama's own background and that of his siblings as reflected in their life writings.
The 11th IWL Summer School in Mainz coincides with the 75-year anniversary of the re-opening of the Johannes Gutenberg University. In view of the current political and cultural developments, accentuated by the worldwide Coronavirus, the University has invited Germany's past president Joachim Gauck to give a series of lectures as a Johannes Gutenberg Endowed Professor on the topic of Endangered Democracies. This concern is also part of the larger question of the input of academic research into political decisions.