Scottish History in Schools

Submitting Institution

University of Edinburgh

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Language, Communication and Culture: Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Philosophy and Religious Studies: History and Philosophy of Specific Fields

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Summary of the impact

Research on modern Scottish history undertaken at the University of Edinburgh by Cameron (since 1993) and Devine (since 2005) has had an impact on the curriculum for Higher history, an examination taken by around 10,000 secondary pupils in Scotland every year. It influenced the topics to be modularised in the reformed curriculum — especially `Migration and Empire, 1830 to 1939' and `Scotland and the Great War, 1914 to 1928' — and the detailed `issues' which form these modules. Devine's work on the impact of Scots on the Empire and the effect of the Empire on Scotland and Cameron's on recruiting, politics and the land question during the Great War have been used in the classroom, cited in the key textbooks and set as source `extracts' for critical commentary in examinations.

Underpinning research

The researchers who have had a significant effect on the shaping of the school curriculum are: Professor Ewen Cameron, appointed lecturer in Scottish History, UoE in 1993 and currently Sir William Fraser Professor of Scottish History and Palaeography (since 2012). Professor T.M. Devine, appointed in 2005, firstly as Sir William Fraser Professor of Scottish History and Palaeography and currently, from 2012, as Senior Research Professor in History.

Devine's Scottish Nation (3rd edn 2012) and his To the Ends of the Earth (2011) are among the most widely read texts on modern Scottish history. Devine's work is the first attempt for nearly forty years to write a history of modern Scotland and to analyse the imperial and global dimension of Scottish history. These works have demonstrated the importance of the imperial and global context of Scottish history in a more comprehensive way than before. The way in which Scots contributed to the empire, through mass migration as well as the specialised activities of administrative and technical elites such as missionaries, civil servants and engineers are central to Devine's approach. Devine's work also shows that the empire had a significant effect on Scotland.

Cameron's Impaled Upon a Thistle (2010) is the first history of the period since 1880 to give so much emphasis to political themes and to treat the Great War and its implications in such depth. His treatment of the Great War sets the conflict in a longer historical context than earlier accounts and pays particular attention to the regional diversity of the effect of the war on Scottish society, especially through his use of the richness of the Scottish local press as a key source. His account of the political dimension of the war moves beyond accounts of `Red Clydeside' to examine the effect of the war on other political traditions such as unionism, nationalism and liberalism. Cameron's earlier work on the land question, especially in Land for the People?, is also relevant in its critical approach to the activities of veterans of the Great War in post-war protests on the land question and his detailed attention to the role of government in responding to these protests.

Earlier volumes, such as W. Ferguson's Scotland: 1689 to the Present (London, Praeger, 1968) or T.C. Smout's A History of the Scottish People (Edinburgh, Oliver & Boyd, 1969), ground-breaking when published, are neither so wide ranging as Devine's work nor do they cover the Great War in the same depth as Cameron.

The works of Cameron and Devine are successful in packaging the revolution in Scottish historical scholarship which has taken place in the last thirty years, as reflected in and commented on in the contents of the Oxford Handbook of Modern Scottish History (co-edited by Devine with Cameron as a contributor), but they are also more than synthetic summaries of historiography. As well as having the underpinning of primary research material, Devine's work is original in its bringing of the imperial and global dimensions of Scottish history to the core of the subject and stressing the inter-relatedness of these aspects with `domestic' themes in Scottish history. Cameron's work on the Great War discusses the extent to which it can be regarded as a watershed in twentieth-century Scottish history.

References to the research


E. A. Cameron, Land for the People? The British Government and the Scottish Highlands since 1880 (East Linton, Tuckwell, 1996); to be supplied on request.


E. A. Cameron, Impaled Upon a Thistle: Scotland since 1880 (Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2010); to be supplied on request.


T.M. Devine, The Scottish Nation, 1700 to 2007 (London, Penguin, 2006, 2nd edn 2007); to be supplied on request.

T. M. Devine, The Scottish Nation. A Modern History (London, Penguin, 3rd edn, 2012); to be supplied on request.

T. M. Devine, To The Ends of the Earth: Scotland's Global Diaspora (London, Penguin, 2011); listed in REF2.


T.M. Devine and J. Wormald, The Oxford Handbook of Modern Scottish History, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2012); listed in REF2.


Details of the impact

The Higher is an examination taken by pupils in the fifth or sixth year of secondary education in Scotland. In 2012 9550 pupils — 12 per cent of the cohort in Scottish schools — took the history examination (email to Cameron from HM Inspector, Education Scotland, 14/1/2013) (see 5.1). In 2009 a compulsory Scottish history module in paper 2 of the examination was introduced. Pupils choose from five `topics' each of which is divided into six `issues'. Prior to 2009 there was Scottish content embedded in topics on modern British history and some modules on specific Scottish topics, including migration and devolution, but they were not compulsory. There was limited interaction between academic historians and the teaching profession and the use of scholarly research in the classroom was less marked.

In the first half of 2009 Devine and Cameron were among the historians consulted by the teachers tasked with the development of the materials for teaching the option courses. Cameron, for example, was consulted by the history teacher at Jordanhill School, Glasgow, who developed the module on Scotland and the Great War (5.2). Professor Dauvit Broun of the University of Glasgow, the Convener of the Council of the Scottish History Society (SHS) (5.6), coordinated the links between teachers and academic historians on the basis that those who had demonstrated the ability to conduct detailed research and relate it in an accessible way to an audience beyond the academy would be most useful to classroom teachers. It is this characteristic that is central to the impact of the work of Devine and Cameron in the classroom. The Chief Examiner for the Scottish Qualifications Authority, a teacher in a Glasgow school commented: `Tom Devine's work on The Scottish Nation has proven to be the starting point for much of the curriculum as well as a much mined source of information for examinations. It is an accessible text so has been used for pupils in researching many of the topics that now come up at extended essay. Your own [i.e. Cameron's] book has also had an influence in developing the Impact of the Great War topic in that it has been used for setting [extracts from it have been used as `sources' for exam questions in paper 2] and has excellent concise sections on the impact of the war on society and politics in Scotland. I alone have bought 6 books for use in my department by colleagues and students alike' (correspondence with Cameron, 29/8/2012) (5.3). The primary research which underpins the books has also been commented on by teachers. An Edinburgh teacher wrote to Cameron, referring to his work and that of Devine: `The authors' use of extensive primary research is very helpful as Paper 2 is a Source based paper' (email to Cameron, 13/9/2012) (5.4). Ongoing links between academic historians and the teaching profession, and based on the research of the former, have been developed by the SHS and the Scottish Association of Teachers of History. The President of the latter commented: `No longer is the curriculum set in stone but its evolutionary nature demands that schools are continually fed up to date research findings. Furthermore the search for source material and assessment material is enhanced by the work of Cameron and Devine' (correspondence with Cameron, 16/9/2012) (5.5 and 5.7).

Further, in the early summer of 2009, Cameron and Devine, along with many other Scottish historians from a range of institutions, appeared in a series of video resources (5.8 and 5.9) made available through the organisation Learning Teaching Scotland (LTS) now merged into a new national organisation called Education Scotland (5.1). Teachers have indicated that they use these materials regularly and that the `talking heads' have become very familiar to the pupils. Between November 2009 and July 2013 the `Great War' page received 3592 unique visitors (generating 9367 page views) whilst the `Migration and Empire' page received 2911 unique visitors (generating 9041 page views) (email to Cameron from the Online Quality Assurance Analyst, Education Scotland, 7/8/2013). The particular value of this material is that it draws out key themes in published research and makes very specific links to the `issues' which form the building blocks of each module.

A further aspect of the impact of the research is the citation of the published works referred to above in textbooks written for teachers and pupils engaged in the new curriculum, such as John Kerr's Scotland and the Impact of the Great War, 1914 to 1928 (London, Hodder Gibson, 2010) and Simon Wood's Migration and Empire, 1830 to 1939 (London, Hodder Gibson, 2011), pp. 96, 106. These textbooks have been written as part of a series to help pupils prepare for the examination questions in these topics. The entire syllabus is covered in each case and, at the moment, these textbooks have the field to themselves. Extracts from the work of both Cameron and Devine have been used as `sources' for analysis in the Higher examination paper.

Sources to corroborate the impact


5.1 HM Inspector, Education Scotland: to corroborate number of pupils taking the Higher examination in history.

5.2 History Teacher, Jordanhill School, Glasgow: to corroborate collaboration over preparation of the module on Scotland and the Great War.

5.3 Chief Examiner, Scottish Qualifications Authority: to corroborate uses of key works by Cameron and Devine in the teaching of the Higher curriculum.

5.4 History Teacher, Edinburgh: to corroborate the use of texts by Cameron and Devine by school teachers.

5.5 President, Scottish Association of Teachers of History: to corroborate collaboration with the SATH and impact of Cameron and Devine's work on the teaching of Higher history.

Web sources

5.6 Website of Scottish History Society: or

5.7 Website of Scottish Association of Teachers of History: or

5.8 NQ Higher Scottish History website, `Migration and Empire' video resources: or

5.9 NQ Higher Scottish History website, `Impact of The Great War' video resources: or