Professor Robert Anderson (MA DPhil FRSE FRSA)

Professor Emeritus in History


I retired from the University in 2007. Born in Cardiff, I was an undergraduate at Oxford University, and took my doctoral degree there at St Antony's College. My first job was at Glasgow University, I moved to Edinburgh as a lecturer in the History Department in 1969, and was appointed to a personal chair of Modern History in 1994.

Responsibilities & affiliations

External appointments

I am a member of the editorial board of the journal History of Universities and a UK representative on the Commission Internationale pour l'Histoire des Universités.

Research summary

I have published extensively on the history of education, in Scotland and elsewhere. My latest books are European Universities from the Enlightenment to 1914 (2004) and British Universities Past and Present (2006). I took part in the European Science Foundation programme 'Representations of the Past: National Histories in Europe', and I continue to work in the fields of university history and historiography, with an underlying interest in questions of national identity.  I am a member of the editorial board of the journal History of Universities.


  • Britain & Ireland
  • Europe
  • Scotland


  • Society


  • Nineteenth Century
  • Twentieth Century & After

Current research interests

My recent research activity has had four aspects. (1) My book European Universities from the Enlightenment to 1914 published in 2004 was probably my most wide-ranging book, and has been translated into Japanese. It has consolidated my international profile, and the European perspective lies behind much of my research. (2) My book British Universities Past and Present (2006) also led to various invitations to conferences, and to writing on current university problems, e.g. on the History and Policy website, and for the IPPR and Pearson thinktanks. (3) I continue to pursue issues arising from my longstanding research on Scottish education, including recent articles on university centenaries, university finance, the school backgrounds of students, and a chapter on universities and national identity in the Edinburgh History of Education in Scotland, of which I was a joint editor. (4) I was a member of the collaborative international project financed by the European Science Foundation on Representations of the Past: National Histories in Europe. The volume containing my contribution was published in 2015. This stimulated my interest in the institutional context of historiography, and I published three articles on university history teaching in Scotland. It also led to an interest in the history of examinations, and through that to research, leading to two articles (2019 and 2020) on the scientist and politician Lyon Playfair. I do not have a major research project at present, but contribute book reviews, reports and conference papers in the fields of university history and historiography. An underlying interest is the relation of these fields to questions of national identity.


Edited, with M. Freeman and L. Paterson: The Edinburgh history of education in Scotland (Edinburgh University Press, 2015).

British universities past and present (Hambledon Continuum, 2006).

European universities from the Enlightenment to 1914 (Oxford University Press, 2004). Included in Oxford Scholarship Online. Japanese translation, Kyoto, Shawado, 2012.

With M. Lynch and N. Phillipson: The University of Edinburgh: an illustrated history (Edinburgh University Press, 2003).

Scottish education since the Reformation (Scottish Economic and Social History Society, 1997).

Education and the Scottish people 1750-1918 (Oxford University Press, 1995).

Universities and elites in Britain since 1800 (Macmillan, 1992; republished Cambridge University Press, 1995).

The student community at Aberdeen 1860-1939 (Aberdeen University Press, 1988).

Education and opportunity in Victorian Scotland: schools and universities (Clarendon Press, 1983; paperback edition Edinburgh University Press, 1989).

France 1870-1914: politics and society (Routledge, hardback 1977, paperback 1984).

Education in France 1848-1870 (Clarendon, 1975).

Articles in journals

‘The efficient organisation of public intellect: Lyon Playfair and Scottish education’, Scottish Historical Review, 98 (2019), 266-90.

‘A bibliographical resource for university history’, History of Education Researcher, no. 103 (May 2019), 44-7.

‘Writing university history in Great Britain, from the 1960s to the present', CIAN. Revista de Historia de las Universidades, 20 (2017), 17-40.

‘Professors and examinations: ideas of the university in nineteenth-century Scotland’, History of Education, 46 (2017), 21-38.

‘Examinations and university models in nineteenth century Britain’, Annali di Storia delle Università Italiane, 1 (2015), 105-25.

‘Il finanziamento delle università britanniche in una prospettiva storica’ (trans. E. Zingoni), Memoria e Ricerca, no. 48 (2015), 11-33.

'Edinburgh University, schools and the civil service in the early twentieth century', History of Education, 42 (2013), 444-59.

'The state and university finance in modern Scotland', Scottish Affairs, no. 85 (Autumn 2013), 29-41.

'Centralisation et décentralisation dans la formation des élites en France et en Grande-Bretagne à l’époque contemporaine' (trans. P. Savoie), Histoire de l'Education, no. 134 (2012), 39-58.

'University history teaching, national identity and unionism in Scotland, 1862-1914', Scottish Historical Review, 91 (2012), 1-41.

'The development of history teaching in the Scottish universities, 1894-1939', Journal of Scottish Historical Studies, 32 (2012), 50-73.

'Elite formation and excellence in modern Britain', Annali della Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa. Classe di Lettere e Filosofia, 5th ser. 3 no. 1 (2011), 71-80.

'University history teaching and the Humboldtian model in Scotland, 1858-1914', History of Universities, 25, no. 1 (2010), 138-84.

'Ceremony in context: the Edinburgh University Tercentenary, 1884', Scottish Historical Review, 87 (2008), 121-45.

'What are universities for?', BBC History Magazine, 8/10, Oct. 2007, 98.

'University for all who can', BBC History Magazine, 8/6, June 2007, 48-9.

‘Edinburgh University celebrates: the Tercentenary Festival of 1884’, Part 1, History Scotland, 6/6, Nov/Dec 2006, pp. 44-8, and Part 2, 7/1, Jan/Feb 2007, pp. 40-5.

'The idea of the secondary school in nineteenth-century Europe', Paedagogica Historica, 40 (2004), 93-106.

'Before and after Humboldt: European universities between the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries', History of Higher Education Annual, 20 (2000), 5-14.

‘Nationalism and internationalism: European universities before 1914’, Aberdeen University Review, 54 (1992), 334-45.

‘Universities and élites in modern Britain’, History of Universities, 10 (1991), 225-50.

‘The French Revolution, 1789-1989’, University of Edinburgh Journal, 34, no. 1 (1989), 21-5.

‘Sport in the Scottish universities, 1860-1939’, International Journal of the History of Sport, 4 (1987), 177-88.

‘Scottish university professors, 1800-1939: profile of an elite’, Scottish Economic and Social History, 7 (1987), 27-54.

‘Sociology and history: M. S. Archer's Social Origins of Educational Systems’, Archives Européennes de Sociologie, 27 (1986), 149-61.

‘School attendance in nineteenth-century Scotland: a reply’, Economic History Review, 2nd ser. 38 (1985), 282-6.

‘In search of the 'lad of parts': the mythical history of Scottish education’, History Workshop, no. 19 (1985), 82-104. Reprinted (condensed) in A. Cooke and others (eds), Modern Scottish history, 1707 to the present. Volume 4. Readings 1850 to the present (Tuckwell, 1998), 271-81.

‘Secondary schools and Scottish society in the nineteenth century’, Past and Present, no. 109 (1985), 176-203.

‘Education and society in modern Scotland: a comparative perspective’, History of Education Quarterly, 25 (1985), 459-81.

‘Education and the state in nineteenth-century Scotland’, Economic History Review, 2nd ser. 36 (1983), 518-34. Reprinted (condensed) in A. Cooke and others (eds), Modern Scottish history, 1707 to the present. Volume 3. Readings 1707-1850 (Tuckwell, 1998), 237-46.

‘New light on French secondary education in the nineteenth century’, Social History, 7 (1982), 147-65.

‘French views on the English public schools: some nineteenth-century episodes’, History of Education, 2 (1973), 159-72.

‘Secondary education in mid-nineteenth century France: some social aspects’, Past and Present, no. 53 (1971), 121-46.

Chapters in books

‘Historical perspectives’, in T. Bryce & others (eds), Scottish education (5th edn, Edinburgh University Press, 2018), 99-107. 

‘Were there state universities in Britain?’, in P. Del Negro (ed.), La nascita delle università di stato tra medioevo ed età moderna (Bologna, Il Mulino, 2018), 133-9.

‘Scottish university professors, 1800-1939: proposals for a database’, in G. P. Brizzi & W. Frijhoff (eds), Digital academic history. Studi sulle popolazioni accademiche in Europa (Bologna, Il Mulino, 2018), 113-17.

‘British University Traditions’ and ‘The German (Humboldtian) University Tradition’, in J. Shin and P. Teixeira (eds) Encyclopedia of International Higher Education Systems and Institutions (Dordrecht, Springer, 2016) online and    print edn 2020

With S. Wallace, ‘The universities and national identity in the long nineteenth century, c. 1830-1914’, in R. Anderson, M. Freeman and L. Paterson (eds), The Edinburgh history of education in Scotland (Edinburgh University Press, 2015), 265-85.

'Learning: education, class and culture', in M. Hewitt (ed.), The Victorian world (Routledge, 2012), 484-99.

'University centenary ceremonies in Scotland, 1884-1911', in P. Dhondt (ed.), National, Nordic or European? Nineteenth-century university jubilees and Nordic cooperation (Leiden, Brill, 2011), 241-64.

'British universities past, present and future: convergence and divergence', in L. Coiffait (ed.), Blue skies: new thinking about the future of higher education (Pearson, 2011), 57-60. Also online:

'United Kingdom', in I. Porciani and L. Raphael (eds), Atlas of European Historiography: the Making of a Profession, 1800-2005 (Palgrave, 2010), 166-71. I also compiled the databases for Great Britain used for the maps and tables in this book.

'The idea of a university', in K. Withers (ed.), First Class? Challenges and opportunities for the UK's university sector (Institute for Public Policy Research, 2009), 37-45.

'Elite education and the British university model, 1945-1970', in D. Menozzi and M. Rosa (eds), La Storia della Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa in una prospettiva comparativa (Pisa, Edizioni della Normale, 2008), 23-30.

'Aristocratic values and elite education in Britain and France', in M. de Saint-Martin & D. Lancien (eds), Anciennes et nouvelles aristocraties de 1880 à nos jours  (Paris, Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l'Homme, 2007), 261-78.

‘Northern identities and the Scottish educational system’, in D. Northcroft (ed.), North-east identities and Scottish schooling (Aberdeen, Elphinstone Institute, 2005), 15-22.

Revision of articles Craik (Henry), Struthers (John), Grant (Alexander) and new article on Laurie (Simon) for Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Published 2004, in hard copy and online.

‘Democratic Intellectualism’, in J. Crowther & others (eds), Renewing democracy in Scotland (National Institute of Continuing Adult Education, 2003), 17-19.

Entries in D. Loades (ed.), Reader's guide to British history (Fitzroy Dearborn, 2003): ‘University expansion and polytechnics, 20th century’, pp.1315-16; ‘University reform, 19th century’, pp. 1316-18.

‘Education’, in G. Stell & others (eds), Scotland's buildings, vol. 3 of Scottish life and society: a compendium of Scottish ethnology (Tuckwell, 2003), 294-310.

Contributions to M. Lynch (ed.), The Oxford companion to Scottish history (Oxford University Press, 2001): ‘Buildings. 2 Educational’, pp. 53-5; ‘Universities. 2. 1720-1960s’, pp. 612-14.

‘Scottish Universities’, in H. Holmes (ed.), Institutions of Scotland: education, vol. 11 of Scottish life and society: a compendium of Scottish ethnology (Tuckwell, 2000), 154-74.

‘The History of Scottish Education, pre-1980’, in T. Bryce & W. Humes (eds), Scottish education (Edinburgh University Press, 1999), 215-24. Unchanged in 2nd edn 2003, 219-28, 3rd edn 2008, 205-14, 4th edn 2013, 241-50.

‘Ideas of the university in 19th century Scotland: teaching versus research?’, in M. Hewitt (ed.), Scholarship in Victorian Britain (Leeds Working Papers in Victorian Studies, 1998), 1-13.

‘Education’, in A. Cooke and others (ed.), Modern Scottish history, 1707 to the present. Volume 2. The modernisation of Scotland, 1850 to the present (Tuckwell, 1998), 235-56.

'The formation of national elites: the British case', in University and nation: the university and the making of the nation in northern Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries (Helsinki, Finnish Historical Society, 1996), 113-24.

The following articles in P. France (ed.), The new Oxford companion to literature in French (Oxford University Press, 1995): Agrégation (p.14), Ecole Normale Supérieure (pp. 269-70), Ecole Polytechnique (p. 270), Ecoles centrales (p. 270), Education (pp. 271-3).

‘Institutionalization and social adaptation: Scottish universities in the 19th century’, in A. Romano (ed.), Università in Europa. Le istituzioni universitarie dal medio evo ai nostri giorni: strutture, organizzazione, funzionamento (Catanzaro, Rubbettino, 1995), 455-70.

‘The Scottish university tradition: past and future’ in J. Carter and D. Withrington (eds), Scottish universities: distinctiveness and diversity (John Donald, 1992), 67-78.

‘Commentary’ in B. Rang and J. Rupp (eds), The cultural range of citizenship: citizenship and education in England, Scotland, Germany, the United States and the Netherlands (Utrecht, ISOR, 1991), 83-9.

Three entries in D. Bell (ed.), Biographical dictionary of French political leaders since 1870 (Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1990).

‘Brewster and the reform of the Scottish universities’ in A. D. Morrison-Low and J. R. R. Christie (eds), 'Martyr of science': Sir David Brewster 1781-1868 (Royal Scottish Museum, 1984), 31-4.

‘Comments’ in N. Phillipson (ed.), Universities, society and the future (Edinburgh University Press, 1983), pp. 160-6, 204-9.

‘A historical background: France in the Second Empire’ in Images on paper: mid 19th century French photography (Scottish Photography Group Gallery, 1979), 4-5.

157 entries on twentieth-century French history in G. M. D. Howat (ed.), Dictionary of world history (Nelson, 1973).

‘The conflict in education. Catholic secondary schools (1850-70): a reappraisal’ in T. Zeldin (ed.), Conflicts in French society: anticlericalism, education and morals in the nineteenth century (Allen & Unwin, 1970), 51-93.

Online-only publications

'University fees in historical perspective', Policy Paper on History and Policy website, 2016. 

‘The 'idea of a university' today’. Policy Paper on History and Policy website, 2010.