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A History of the University of Edinburgh

Course Times & Enrolment

This course is currently unavailable.

Course Summary

This course offers a unique opportunity to explore and study the rich history of the University of Edinburgh since its foundation in 1583, gaining access to the University’s material, culture and heritage. The course will consider the establishment of the institution initially as the Tounis College, the curriculum through the centuries, the contributions of teachers and students, and the university’s contribution to knowledge, cultural and political life at home and overseas.

Please note, this course includes a field trip.

Course Details

Pre-requisites for enrolment


Content of Course

1. Historical overview; The Tounis College, 1583 – 2000.

2. The expanding university - Humanities and Social Science.

3. Embracing the modern world – Science, Engineering and Medicine.

4. Students, alumni and overseas connections.

5. Visit – the University’s core historic area, the University Library and the Centre for Research Collections.

Teaching method(s)

The course will be taught via interactive lecture, illustrated with slides, and group discussion. Students will be introduced to a range of historical sources which they will analyse and discuss. Classroom discussion will be complemented by site visits to historic University buildings and access to the University’s archives for primary source viewing and analysis.

Learning outcomes

On completion of this course, the student will be able to:

  • Assess the historical factors which influenced the development of higher education in Scotland since the late 17th century;

  • Analyse Edinburgh University’s contribution to higher learning and to society;

  • Handle critically a range of source material.


Core Readings


  • Anderson, R. D., 1995. Education and the Scottish People, 1750-1918. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

  • Anderson, R. D., Lynch, M., and Phillipson, N., 2003. The University of Edinburgh, An Illustrated History. Edinburgh: EUP.


  • Birse, R. M. 1994. Science at the University of Edinburgh, 1583-1993. Edinburgh, The Faculty of Science and Engineering: The University of Edinburgh.

  • Buchan, J., 2003. Capital of the Mind; how Edinburgh changed the world. London: John Murray.

  • Davie, G., 1961. The Democratic Intellect. Edinburgh: EUP.

  • Donaldson, G. ed., 1983. Four Centuries; Edinburgh University Life. Edinburgh: EUP.

  • Horn, D. B., I967. A Short History of the University of Edinburgh, 1556-1889. Edinburgh: EUP.

  • Wintersgill, D., 2005. The Rectors of the University of Edinburgh, 1859-2000. Edinburgh: Dunedin Academic Press.

  • Withers, C., 2002. Science and Medicine in the Scottish Enlightenment. Edinburgh: Tuckwell Press.

  • Wright, D. F., and  Badcock, G. D., 1996. Disruption to Diversity; Edinburgh Divinity 1846-1996. Edinburgh: T & T Clark.


If you have questions regarding the course or enrolment, please contact COL Reception at Paterson's Land by email or by phone 0131 650 4400.

Student support

If you have a disability, learning difficulty or health condition which may affect your studies, please let us know by ticking the 'specific support needs' box on your course application form. This will allow us to make appropriate adjustments in advance and in accordance with your rights under the Equality Act 2010. For more information please visit the Student Support section of our website.