School of History, Classics & Archaeology

About our staff

Dr Gary Dickson

A.B., M.A., Ph.D., F.R.Hist.S.

Honorary Fellow


Contact information
Address: School of History, Classics and Archaeology, William Robertson Wing, Teviot Place, Edinburgh EH8 9AG
Telephone: +44 (0)131 650 4140

As a Californian born and bred, San Francisco remains my American Jerusalem.  After Piedmont High School, an excellent state school, I went to Stanford, where I majored in history. This was due to a course I took in my first year, History of Western Civilization, which opened the door to the endless possibilities of history as a way of approaching whatever humans have done, thought and felt. I received my A.B. degree in History and the Humanities (special programme) ‘With Great Distinction’ in 1961. Professor Gavin Langmuir, whose international reputation resulted from his work on medieval antisemitism, especially influenced my decision at Edinburgh to offer an honours seminar on the same subject. At Stanford I edited the literary magazine.  Awarded a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, I took my M.A. at Yale in 1963.  The outstanding medievalist there was Professor Roberto S. Lopez, an economic historian who could make a thirteenth-century business contract sing like a Petrarchan sonnet.  After Yale, I became an Instructor at Texas Western College of the University of Texas at El Paso (1963-64), teaching Western Civ.  During that time John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas; I could have told him not to come.  Then I moved to Wisconsin State University at Eau Claire (1964-67), again teaching Western Civ, but also Medieval History, Renaissance and Reformation and even American History (the Chairman’s ‘it will be good for you’ ringing in my ears’).

I arrived in Edinburgh in 1967 after experiencing the Summer of Love in San Francisco (never warmed to the Hippies; much preferred the Beats, some of whom could actually write good poetry). When I turned up in George Square, professorial giants ruled. They could be approached, but with caution. Mon maître Denys Hay in Medieval and Renaissance History was a giant, but an amiable one.  He was the reason I came to Edinburgh. I’d assigned his books in Texas and Wisconsin. A scholar’s footnotes can be an exercise in self-disclosure. Denys’s suggested humour and cordiality.  I wrote to him, and decided to be his student.  Years later I had the sad task of writing his obit in The Scotsman.  While working on my Ph.D., I also became a tutor for the Open University’s Renaissance course; and a tutor and part-time lecturer at Edinburgh.  Edinburgh gave me the third degree in 1975. Denys Hay asked me to purge my prose of Americanisms; and I was happy to comply. Lecturing at Edinburgh, I tried to speak British English most of the time. The one word I couldn’t bring myself to pronounce in British English was ‘schedule.’  From 1981-86 I directed The Antiquary Visiting Scholars Programme of the Denys Hay Seminar in Medieval and Renaissance History, which brought twelve pre-eminent medievalists to give a lecture at Edinburgh each year.  For it, I managed to obtain very generous private, commercial sponsorship.   2004 was the year of my obligatory retirement (ageism), transforming me into an Honorary Fellow.

External appointments

I was invited to deliver a series of eight Wilde Lectures in Natural and Comparative Religion at Oxford University during the academic year 1996-7 on the theme of 'Medieval Pentecostalism'; then in 1997-98  I was elected to Membership of the Institute for Advanced Study, School of Historical Studies, Princeton, New Jersey, U.S.A. In 2002, there was a session on 'Urban Revivalism' at the annual conference of the Medieval Academy of America, meeting in New York, which I organized, introduced and chaired.  Over the years there were numerous conference talks, too many to mention, along with several appointments as an external examiner for undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.  But I might mention that I was Featured Speaker at the International Conference on Medieval Children, 1200-1500, at the University of Kent, Canterbury in 2006.