A distinguished tradition

History has been taught at the University of Edinburgh since its foundation in 1583.

A painting of William Robertson

The seeds of the distinctive discipline of ‘economic and social history’ were sown in 1884 when economic history began to be taught; and in 1901 the establishment of the Fraser Chair of Scottish History made Edinburgh the first university in the world to teach Scottish history as a serious academic subject.

Today’s History department was formed by the merger of three smaller departments in 2009.

William Robertson

William Robertson (1721-93), after whom our building is named, was a leading scholar of the Scottish Enlightenment.

Educated at the University, he wrote an acclaimed History of Scotland during the Reigns of Queen Mary and James VI (1759), as wells as histories of America and of the Emperor Charles V, some of the most influential historical works of the eighteenth century.

He went on to become Principal of the University (1762) and Historiographer Royal (1764).

He commissioned the present Old College building (begun in 1789) and established the Library Fund, raised from student fees, which helped to establish the University’s collection.

By profession, Robertson was a Church of Scotland minister, much occupied with high-level ecclesiastical politics. History was not yet an entirely distinct subject, but it owes much as a discipline generally and for its place within the University, to his pioneering work.