World Report

Semiotics at the University of Dortmund, Germany

By Guido Ipsen

It is a familiar phenomenon that semiotics is practised by colleagues of the most diverse branches, but finds little recognition by the universities where they teach. To my knowledge, the only existing undergraduate department of semiotics is located at the University of Tartu, Estonia. Several other individual professorships for semiotics exist, such as the one occupied by Winfried Nöth at Kassel University, Germany.

In August 2003, I have been appointed professor for scientific communication at the University of Dortmund, Germany. The department that hosts the professorship is labelled cultural studies and incorporates German and English philology and linguistics, journalism, and history.

The semiotically trained reader will immediately discover the semiotic potential that rests in this combination. Scientific communication itself is naturally concerned with communicating the knowledge and findings of one discipline to another. This already being applied semiotics in itself, it is the obvious choice to incorporate semiotics in the official curriculum.

In the summer 2004, the faculty dean officially agreed to add the specialisation "Semiotic Studies" to the denomination of the professorship.

The teaching program covered by the professorship includes semiotic theory, history of semiotics, semiotics of culture, semiotics of the media, and transdisciplinary semiotics. The latter being a novel term, it indicates a focus on the disciplinary semiotic aspects of the other disciplines taught at the department.

The faculty of cultural studies has developed and started some of the first Bachelor/Masters programs in Germany, hence approaching internationally fixed standards. The semiotic method has been incorporated in the curriculum for these courses of study. Hence, students studying semiotics mainly are recruited from the BA/MA Applied Cultural Studies, and the BA/MA Applied Linguistics. From these preliminaries, it becomes obvious that the teaching method and the topics chosen are meeting the requirements of the course outlines.

The research program aims at forming a coherent theory of societal semiosis based on Peircean semiotics, and a semiotically inspired history of the media (please see homepage of Guido Ipsen at

In research and project planning, semiotics at the University of Dortmund has teamed up with the Universities of Helsinki and Tartu. In this context, the international semiotic network UMWEB has been formed, which will present itself in due course by its own portal (inquiries:;; This network has already started its work by founding a semiotic publishing house and started a digital media projects for the dissemination of semiotics to other disciplines as well as the general public. Among the authors of UMWEB, we find semiotic personalities such as Eero Tarasti, or Myrdene Anderson.

This is only a brief sketch of the semiotic activities begun in Dortmund. Please feel free to inquire about more details. My hope is that this report encourages other semioticians to engage in similar activities at their departments, to enhance and popularize our common scientific goal of semiotics.