The orientalist Georg Heinrich Bernstein (1787-1860) became the first associate professor of Oriental languages at the faculty of theology in 1812, shortly after the new university was founded on the initiative of the Prussian reformer Wilhelm von Humboldt on August 16, 1809.
In 1841, King Frederick William IV of Prussia (1795-1861), on the recommendation of the naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, lured the language genius Friedrich Rückert (1788-1866) to take the first chair for Oriental languages at the faculty of philosophy of Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Berlin. Here, in 1846, he completed his masterly "Hamâsa or the oldest Arab folks", before retiring from his university career in 1848 at his own request.
From 1850 to 1903, Friedrich Heinrich Dieterici (1821-1903) was extraordinary professor of Arabic literature at the faculty of philosophy of the University of Berlin. His publication of the "Alfiyya" by the Spanish-Arabic scholar Ibn Mālik (died about 1276) is a milestone in Arabic studies.
In 1876, Carl Eduard Sachau (1845-1930), who made a name for himself in Arabic literature, especially with his publications on the important universal scholar al-Bīrūnī (973-1048), followed the chair. He was also the first director of the Seminar for Oriental Languages (SOS), which was founded on October 27, 1887, at the instigation of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.
In 1919, Gotthelf Bergsträßer (1886-1933), whose introduction to the Semitic languages is still a standard work of Semitics, was an extraordinary professor for Semitic languages in Berlin. His archive of photographs of Qur'an manuscripts is of great importance for the Corpus Coranicum project at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences today.
In the years 1922 and 1923, one of the most important German orientalists of the twentieth century, Carl Brockelmann (1868-1956), was a full professor for Semitic languages in Berlin.
In 1929, Carl Heinrich Becker (1876-1933), himself an orientalist, authorized the establishment of an institute for Semitic and Islamic studies at the faculty of philosophy at the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Universität. Hans Heinrich Schaeder (1896-1957) renamed it to "Institute of Arabic Studies and Islamic Studies".
In 1963, a chair for Semitic and Arabic Studies was set up at the Freie Universität Berlin, which was founded in 1948. It was occupied by Rudolf Macuch (1919-1993), specialized in the Mandaean and Samaritan languages, until his retirement in 1988.
In 1991, the renowned Qur'ran researcher Angelika Neuwirth (born in 1943) was appointed professor of Arabic studies at the Seminar for Semitic and Arabic Studies. In the years 1994 to 1999 the chair was represented by Renate Jacobi (born in 1936).
Since 2014, Beatrice Gründler has held the chair for Arabic studies at Freie Universität Berlin.