250 Years of English Literature

The year 2012 marked 250 years of the study of English Literature at Edinburgh. The University hosted a year of lectures, exhibitions and activities to celebrate this milestone.

Our English Literature department can lay claim to being the oldest of its kind in the world. In 1762, the University had the foresight to appoint the Reverend Hugh Blair as the first Regius Chair in 'rhetoric and belles lettres'.

Under the guidance of the pioneering Blair, students were encouraged to move away from the study of solely Latin and Greek texts. He introduced his pupils to a much broader range of writing, ultimately developing the academic discipline of literary criticism as we know it today.

Sixteen Regius Professors have since followed, and the department is still at the forefront of understanding literature and what makes ‘lettres’ ‘belles’. It remains a vigorous centre of scholarship, teaching and learning.

Distinguished literary alumni include Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, JM Barrie and Ian Rankin.

When I was a student at Edinburgh I felt a great connection to the writers who’d studied here in the past. It was a continuum, a great thrill, being a student at an institution that has had so many amazing people go through it.

Ian RankinEnglish Literature graduate

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As part of the celebrations, bestselling novelist and University alumnus Dr Philippa Gregory presented a lecture that took an amusing look at the challenges women may face in their life and career.

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Lecture series content

  • From Belles-Lettres to Eng-Lit: Criticism and its Publics
  • Theatres of Learning: Drama, the University and performance in Scotland
  • The Edinburgh Review: Then and Now
  • Stevenson Among the Psychologists - The SWINC Annual Lecture
  • Daniel Wilson, Scotland and Canada: the export of English
  • The Regius Chair and its incumbents
  • Burns in Edinburgh
  • From Belles Lettres to English Lit: the Victorian Regius Chair in in Glasgow and Edinburgh
  • Shakespeare's Cheek: Another Bard in Scotland
  • 1762