About us

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 anaesthetics 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


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

The Faculty of Law is founded


The Faculty of Arts is founded


The Faculty of Medicine is founded


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


The foundation stone is laid at the site of Old College


The University’s first black graduate, Caribbean student William Fergusson gains his MD


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


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


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


The Edinburgh Seven become the first female students allowed to matriculate at any UK university


The University’s first female students graduate


The University’s graduating hall, McEwan Hall opens


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


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


Student Eric Liddell wins 400 metres at the Paris Olympics


The University appoints its first female Professor, Elizabeth Wiskemann


Edinburgh University Students’ Association is founded


Dolly the Sheep is cloned at the Roslin Institute


A new Medical School is opened at Little France


The University merges with Edinburgh College of Art


Professor Peter Higgs is awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics


Ambitious plans to make Edinburgh the data capital of Europe announced


In a world first, Professor Evelyn Telfer grows human eggs in the lab paving the way for new fertility treatments


Work begins to install £79m supercomputer ARCHER2 at the University, boosting the UK’s capacity to run massive research simulations and remain at the forefront of science and technology innovation


Edinburgh Futures Institute is opened at the Old Royal Infirmary building

Related links

Commemorative plaques

Honorary graduates


Estates and buildings