Edinburgh University

By Bowden, Fiona | History Review, March 1997 | Go to article overview

Edinburgh University


Bowden, Fiona, History Review


Cobbles underfoot, a melange of indiscreet yet invitingly cosmopolitan shops, vibrant cafes chanced upon along hidden alleys. The odd patriotic tartan shop, security imbued amongst castle fortifications, elegance and royalty maintained within palatial surroundings -- for myself the Royal Mile epitomises the true Edinburgh. Being a part of the university, studying History M.A. (Hons), I find myself merging contentedly with the diverse social, cultural and intellectual mould created by the city. Luck? Maybe, but spitting on the Heart of Midlothian has not yet been resorted to. Hard work was initially involved to ensure I achieved the BBB requirement to study history. Why Edinburgh? History lurks constantly in this city -- King James College or the Tounis college, as Edinburgh University was then known, was founded by the Town Council in 1583 as the first civic university in Britain. Its maintenance of an international outlook led the university to become a principal centre of the European Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, housing such writers as David Hume and Adam Smith, and later Charles Darwin, Sir Walter Scott, R.L. Stevenson and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

To a student at Edinburgh University the wealth of diverse opportunities becomes apparent. Firstly, the opportunity to experience the breadth and depth of the Scottish degree structure. Edinburgh boasts a remarkable collection of libraries, including the largest academic university library building in Europe, vital for the study of history. Also a new centre for Second World War studies has recently been set up within the university as part of the department of history. The four year programme for the honours history degree covers a wide range of choices. You can dabble in ideas of the Ancient World up to present day -- covering areas such as Africa, Asia, Australia, the Americas and Europe. First year mainly concentrates upon British and European History since the sixteenth century (with the option of also studying a course in Economic, Social, Ecclesiastical, Ancient or Scottish history). Outside subjects are also taken for the first two years to provide linkage between disciplines. First Year lectures are bulging, but filtration into the wider variety of courses over the four years thins this out.

Tutorials encourage intellectual banter and repartee, creating confidence in public speaking. Three essays a term are the norm, with a probable class exam at the end of either the Christmas term or Spring term. Some courses have an exemption system whereby an average of 60% or more, attained in your three essays, class exam and maybe oral assessment, exempts you from sitting the degree exam. Other courses just have the one degree exam in the summer. There is also an opportunity to be elected as a staff-student liaison representative for your course, debating specific aspects needing modification, addition or just praise -- all for the benefit of the student.

Accommodation? Edward Topham, a traveller in 1774, remarked, 'The style of building here is much like the French. The houses, however, are higher as some rise to twelve and one particular to thirteen storeys in height.' For the majority of the 5800 first year-students the maximum of four floors will be encountered in Pollock Halls of Residence; while the rest will be allocated to self-catering houses/flats, each encouraging and facilitating the art of friendship-making. A compact city implies actual living within the city itself- everything can be reached by the art of walking. The following years are normally spent in areas such as Bruntsfield, Morningside, Marchmont, New Town and the south side of the city, in private accommodation or university flats. …

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