Scotland is riding high. In May next year Scots go to the polls to elect their first independent Parliament for nearly 300 years. A new confidence is in the air. There's a revival of interest in Scottish culture and Scottish identity, reflected in an artistic flowering - films like Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, Rob Roy and Braveheart being the best known examples.
And in February this year the first distance education university course in modern Scottish history was launched jointly by the Open University and the University of Dundee.
As the first intake of 115 students anxiously await the results of their final exam, several Scottish academics who have spent years pushing for such a course, are feeling more than vindicated. "I'm very pleased," Tony Cooke, Dundee University senior lecturer in continuing education told Open Eye. "We originally only planned for 100 students. And we already have 130 signed up for next year." The course, Developing Modern Scottish History has been a major project, he said. Contributions to the course have come from 26 leading authorities in 14 institutions in Scotland, England and Germany, and it has won pounds 100,000 funding over two years from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council through its Flexibility in Teaching and Learning initiative. Although Scottish history courses are offered by many universities north of the border, this is the first distance one which means it can be studied literally anywhere in the world. One quarter of this year's student intake is resident in England, with 18 students in the south east. And there are others scattered around the world, including New York, Paris, Austria, a Catalan in Barcelona and a Geordie working in Korea. Among the students are teachers and employees in the Scottish tourist industry, clearly hoping to put the course to use in their work. But many are studying merely out of general interest. Scottish history has an appeal beyond Scotland. "Devolution has raised the profile of Scotland across the UK," says Tony. "And I believe Scots are becoming more interested in their own history. In the past, you could go through the whole Scottish school system and not learn a lot about Scottish history, particularly for the 19th and 20th centuries. What you learned was quite a lot of English history." But if the words `Scottish history' conjure up an image of tartan, misty glens and bagpipes, forget it, says Dr Ian Donnachie, OU senior lecturer in history. …