Under the reign of Prince Leopold III Frederick Franz, Duke of Anhalt-Dessau (1740 – 1817), the creator of the Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Wörlitz (UNESCO World Heritage), Dessau was a centre of enlightment in Germany, specialising in culture, economy and modern education.
In 1774 Johann Bernhard Basedow, education reformer during the Enlightenment, founded the first Philanthropinum in Dessau. Joachim Heinrich Campe (1746 – 1818), language researcher, writer and educator dedicated to the ideals of Enlightenment, was head of the Philanthropinum (school for philanthropists) for a short period of time. Among other things, a reformed orthography, leading back to Klopstock, was introduced at this school.
The Research Library of the Anhaltische Landesbücherei which has about 15,000 historical volumes in its collections, is located in the historical school building, the Palais Dietrich. The estate of the Philanthropinum Dessau is also located here as part of the estate of the famous Dessau-born poet and librarian Wilhelm Müller (1794-1827). He wrote poems which later inspired Franz Schubert to compose his song cycles Die Winterreise (the winter journey) and Die schöne Müllerin (the fair miller maid). Müller's grave can be visited on the historical cemetery in Dessau-Roßlau.
The Dessau Scientific Library houses an extensive collection of historical original manuscripts, including the World Heritage site: Luther's Letter to the Romans Lecture, valuable Cranach Bibles, Basedow's Elementary Work and the texts by Wilhelm Müller, a poet who was born in Dessau. Contemporary highlights from the Reformation, to the Enlightenment to the modernity are on display in the Dessau Museum für Stadtgeschichte (Museum for the City History of Dessau) in the Johannbau.