Scotland has always had a distinctive approach to higher education. From the inauguration of its first universities, the accent has been on first principles. This unified the approach to knowledge – even of mathematics and science – through a broad, philosophical interpretation.
This generalist tradition, contrasting with the specialism of the two English universities, Oxford and Cambridge, stood Scotland in good stead. It characterised its intellectual life, even into the nineteenth century, when economic, social and political pressures enforced an increasing conformity to English models. George Davie’s account of the history of these movements, and of the great personalities involved, has proved seminal in restoring to Scotland a sense of cultural identity.