The IZEA was founded in 1990 as a central scientific institution of the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg and took its present form in 1993. As a research institution for the history of culture and ideas, it explores the foundations of modern Western societies through the study of ideas and cultural patterns developed in the 18th century.
The research program includes research and publishing projects dedicated to a wide variety of themes, such as the history of universities, societies and communication; anthropology, aesthetics, culture and knowledge transfer, scholarly culture and literary forms of representation in the 18th century; the development of cultural patterns; the Enlightenment in global networks; and the Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Wörlitz.
The IZEA is headed by the Managing Director in consultation with a multidisciplinary board of directors from the Martin-Luther University. An international advisory board supports and oversees the work of the Centre. Financing is provided by the MLU Halle-Wittenberg, as well as by third-party funds from the public and private sector for specific projects.
The IZEA is located in the Red School, built in 1896, which was formerly the High School for Girls of the Francke Foundations. The IZEA houses a public library (a branch of the ULB) containing primary sources and research literature related to the Enlightenment in regional and European contexts. Approximately 20,000 original prints from the 18th century are freely accessible, to which are added historical and critical new editions and reprints. The Alexander von Humboldt Chair of Modern Written Culture and European Knowledge Transfer and the Immanuel-Kant-Forum also have their offices in the building.
Thanks to its outstanding library, its publishing projects, its geographic proximity to important historic sites related to the Enlightenment (including extensive archives, libraries and art collections), and its partnerships with major cultural and scientific institutions, the IZEA is now one of the most important international research institutes dedicated to the study of the Enlightenment, and is an essential meeting point for scientists from around the world.