top of page

living the Dutch dream the Swiss way 

Jean Joseph Hisely

What is this story? And this project?

Hisely came to Groningen from La Neuveville, Switzerland at the age of 21 with a formative background in history. He was determined to obtain his doctorate here, at the university. Jean Joseph was the eldest son of a German immigrant Joseph Hisely. While his brother Charles built his career as a geologist in Switzerland, Jean had ambitions to study in The Netherlands since his teenage years.


After a few unsuccessful attempts, at the age of 18, he finally got a chance to leave for the Netherlands to teach the children of State Councillor Baron de Pabst von Bingeren, from whose rich library he could then profit. During his time with the Baron's family Hisely got acquainted with many professors of the University of Groningen. Having taken their advice, Jean created a plan for his studies, which started in The Hague and continued in Groningen. Thus already in 1821, we find his name written among those admitted to the University, where he then received his academic degree (Dr. Phil.) in history in 1824.


Having full freedom to choose the subject of his dissertation, on the advice of one of his professors, Jean chose one from the history of his own country. He decided to defend the story of William Tell, which has been subject to frequent criticism before. Quoting Hisely on the subject: “Ignoring all the difficulties with which this subject bristled, I set to work. The idea of starting out in the republic of letters by defending the story of William Tell and refuting from a distance of more than two hundred leagues "The Danish Fable", a work by a man who had written it in a remote village barely a league from my native place, had its charms; but still young, lacking in the experience one acquires only with age and through long studies, a novice in the art of criticism, hardly suspecting that vaunted authors might not always be right, I composed a small work: Dissertatio historica inauguralis de Gulielmo Tellio, libertatis helveticæ vindice"

With this work, written in Latin and little known in Switzerland, Jean Joseph nonetheless began his prolific academic career. After obtaining his doctorate Hisely stayed in the Netherlands, moving on to teach at a secondary school in The Hague. In 1837 he came back to Switzerland, first becoming a rector at a grammar school in Biel, then a teacher at a grammar school in Lausanne. Later he occupied several Honorary professorship positions at Lausanne Academy. He published many influential books on the history of his native land, among which the most famous one was "Histoire du comté de Gruyère" (1851-1857)

Click here to find out!

bottom of page