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Research Uses

online essay

John Walker

John Robison



The archival collections catalogued by the project are unrivalled in their importance to a full understanding of the history of science in Scotland. The most obvious importance and use of the collections lies in the information they contain on a whole range of national and international firsts in scientific advance and technological innovation.

Examples of significant achievements by the scientists working in the three partner higher education institutions include:

  • In the eighteenth century, Joseph Black, John Robison and James Watt worked together on the phenomena associated with latent heat.

  • The Edinburgh School of Arts was the world's first Mechanics' Institute (1821). Later, 'the Glasgow pair', William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin) and William Maquorn Rankine, laid the foundations of modern thermodynamics.

  • In the early part of the twentieth century, James Cossar Ewart's work on the genetics of horses and sheep led to the first teaching post in Genetics in Britain (1911).

The collections have great research potential and are being consulted on a regular basis by academic researchers from around the world. This potential goes far beyond the history of science itself. For example, the collections could be used to research:

  • the evolution of the curriculum in response to other major influences like the increasing support and direction from local and central government

  • the growth of the importance of research in science and technological innovation from the nineteenth century to present day research parks

  • the impact of scientific development on the student body, linking to subjects such as the issues surrounding the recruitment of women as staff and students in science and technology disciplines

The Scottish universities were essentially civic institutions, which gave them a very different social role to their counterparts in England. They interacted more with industry and industrialists to address the lack of available scientific education, and provide training for artisans and industrial operatives. They were also active in addressing environmental problems produced by industrial society such as public health.

Essays have been compiled for NAHSTE on the following:

  • Dr John Henry, of the Science Studies Unit, University of Edinburgh, explores the history of scientific and technical education in 3 Scottish universities in the online essay.

  • Matthew D Eddy, Department of Philosophy, University of Durham looks at the influence of John Walker.

  • David B. Wilson, Iowa State University, discusses John Robison.