New history of Aberdeen University to emphasise the university's international nature

12 February 2022
A new study of the history University of Aberdeen is to consider the importance of the university's cultural history, with issues of gender, race and power given a more central role than in previous historical accounts.

On February 13, the University of Aberdeen will mark its 527th birthday and a new publication exploring some of the key moments and figures which have shaped the institution’s history is nearing the final stages of editing.

A New History of the University of Aberdeen will be released in the autumn and is a fresh look at both the University’s earliest beginnings and some of the students, staff and alumni who have shaped it over the centuries.

The book is edited by Professor Michael Brown, Chair in Irish, Scottish & Enlightenment, and Dr Brad Bow, Lecturer in Scottish History and draws on a popular series of podcasts produced to mark the University’s 525th anniversary.

A 'significant hub of intellectual life'

Professor Brown said: “This is retelling the story of how Aberdeen rose from a small medieval foundation to a significant hub of intellectual life in the region, nationally and indeed globally, bringing Aberdeen out to the world and just as significantly, bringing the world to Aberdeen. The University has since its foundation been open to all, and this new history reflects that commitment.

“In the course of its history the University has experienced external forces from the civil wars of the 1640s, the Union of Crowns of 1707 to the disruption of the Church of Scotland in the nineteenth century and the world wars of the twentieth century. But throughout it has sought to excel in the pursuit of truth, and it has a long record of achievement that we want to recall, even as we look ahead.

“It is a long tradition of academic achievement: the University has contributed to the Reformation, the Enlightenment and has been associated with five Nobel laureates.

“With the passing of the significant milestone of 525 years it seemed an appropriate time to embark on a nuanced history of both the institution and its people.”

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Dr Jackson Armstrong, a specialist in the later middle ages, says a more international exploration of the University’s history is in line with its earliest foundation in 1495 – as King’s College before it merged with Marischal College in 1860 to become what is today the University of Aberdeen.

“Many previous accounts represent King's College as a new innovation for the Northeast, connecting a somehow isolated and remote region of the kingdom to the world of learning,” he added. “But while Aberdeen had no more than a few thousand inhabitants, at the end of the 14th century it was counted in Bruges as amongst the four principal towns of Scotland.

“To me, the early history of the University and the context out of which it was created, is about how Bishop Elphinstone’s foundation was as a result of an outward looking, creative and internationally connected Aberdeen. That was a medieval legacy which would continue for centuries to come and which we hope to showcase through this new publication.”

Book details

525 Years in the Pursuit of Truth: A New History of the University of Aberdeenrevisits some of the best-known figures from the University, including Hector Boece (1465-1536), a Scottish philosopher and historian, and the first Principal of King's College; and philosopher Thomas Reid (1710-96), internationally known as the chief representative of the Scottish School of Common Sense.

The podcast series 525 Years in the Pursuit of Truth: A New History of the University of Aberdeen can be listened to on the University of Aberdeen website.

(report and image courtesy University of Aberdeen)