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Writing University History for Aberdeen's Quincentenary

Jennifer Carter takes a look back on the history of the university of Aberdeen.

Universities are among the Western World's oldest institutions with continuous histories. Only the Roman Catholic church, the law courts of certain European countries, some army regiments, and a few town and craft corporations can claim similar longevity. What is interesting today is the way in which the history of these old institutions, the universities, is being written. University history has moved away from the once-dominant tradition of recording the stories of particular institutions and praising, famous forebearers, and instead tries to interpret the history of universities in its modest context – social, economic, political, intellectual and cultural. It is often a collaborative enterprise, and it frequently uses computer technology – though as one practitioner admits, it may do so with a 'mixture of enthusiasm, experimentation, scepticism and bewilderment'.

Examples of contemporary university history include the large-scale project on the history' of European Universities under the auspices of the Standing Conference of Rectors, Presidents and Vice-Chancellors of the European Universities (CRE). In Britain the history of the University of Oxford is an outstanding example, as is the research currently going forward towards a 'holistic history' of the University of Birmingham. A comparable American effort has begun at the University of California in Berkeley. This multi-dimensional approach is seen too in the leading journal in the field of university history: History of Universities, launched in 1981.

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