About

Our history

With our rich history, noted alumni and distinguished scholars, we have much to be proud of in our many centuries as a world-renowned university.

From Nobel laureates and Olympic champions to space explorers and prime ministers, the University of Edinburgh has been influencing history since it opened the gates to its first students in 1583.

Ground-breaking thinkers

Following the Scottish Enlightenment of the 18th century, the University was positioned at the forefront of academia and critical thinking.

Due to the determination and perseverance of a group of Edinburgh intellectuals, established facts about the world were being boldly and consistently challenged.

Amid this group was David Hume, philosopher, economist and essayist known for his philosophical skepticism and empiricism; Joseph Black, the chemist behind the discovery of latent heat and carbon dioxide; and James Hutton, the ‘Father of Modern Geology’.

Shaping the past, the present and the future

We are the home of Britain’s oldest literary awards, the James Tait Black Prizes and Dolly the sheep, the first animal to be cloned from an adult somatic cell.

It was also here at the University of Edinburgh that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was inspired to create his notorious character, Sherlock Holmes and James Young Simpson pioneered anaethetics through his discovery of the properties of chloroform.

More recently, theoretical physicist and Professor Emeritus Peter Higgs was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his 1964 prediction of the Higgs Boson.

Through the many achievements of its staff and students, the University has continued to present cutting-edge research, inspirational teaching and innovative thinking as its central ethos, attracting some of the greatest minds from around the globe. 

University of Edinburgh Rector Winston Churchill

You can find more information about the University of Edinburgh, including a detailed timeline, on the Our History website.

Our history

Timeline

1583
The University of Edinburgh officially opens
1620
The roles of Principal and Professor of Divinity are separated
1707

The Faculty of Law is founded

1708

The Faculty of Arts is founded

1726

The Faculty of Medicine is founded

1745

Classes are suspended as Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobite army marches on the city

1789

The foundation stone is laid at the site of Old College

1847

James Young Simpson, Professor of Midwifery, discovers anaesthetic use of chloroform in childbirth

1858

The Universities (Scotland) Act grants the University full control of its own affairs

1859

W E Gladstone becomes the first Rector to be elected by the student body

1893

The University’s first female students graduate

1897

The University’s graduating hall, McEwan Hall opens

1914-1918

Nearly 8,000 students and graduates enlist in the armed forces during WWI

1920

The foundation stone is laid at the site of the King’s Buildings campus

1924

Student Eric Liddell wins 400 metres at the Paris Olympics

1958

The University appoints its first female Professor, Elizabeth Wiskemann

1973

Edinburgh University Students’ Association is founded

1996

Dolly the Sheep is cloned at the Roslin Institute

2002

A new Medical School is opened at Little France

2011

The University merges with Edinburgh College of Art

2013

Emeritus Professor Peter Higgs is awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics

Related links

Commemorative plaques

Honorary graduates

Prize-winners

Estates and buildings