The University of Glasgow: International Story

Last Thursday (21 March 2013) saw the official launch of the University of Glasgow’s new site called the ‘International Story‘ which highlights the range of international students that have joined the University since its inception.

It’s a really useful resource put together by a team of archivists and students. It has an interactive map, you can search by country, follow editors’ highlights and there’s even (at the moment) a tab for Commonwealth countries, in light of the forthcoming Commonwealth Games. I thoroughly recommend it – and it’s still expanding.

One of the aims of this blog is to explore Glasgow’s relationship with empire, especially to reconsider and re-assess this relationship in light of the forthcoming Games. Glasgow, and Scotland, were as involved and complicit in empire as those in London, and hopefully this blog will shed more light on these relations. This also means highlighting some of the positive reciprocal relations that Glasgow had with its empire and includes thinking about people from the colonies who came to Glasgow.

Richard Symonds’ book, Oxford and Empire: The Last Lost Cause? (St Martin’s Press, 1986) explores in detail the ways in which Oxford University educated men for empire, whether through the colonial service or as governors and viceroys, as well as discussing the men and women who came over from the colonies to study at the dreaming spires. Glasgow University has a similar story to tell, which would be worth exploring further. There are some interesting examples of students involved with empire in one way or another, and we hope to have more on them in a later post, but in the meantime let me point you towards some interesting figures:

James McCune Smith – a former slave who was denied admission in US universities because of his race, but was admitted to Glasgow and became the first African-American to receive a university medical degree.

Andrew Watson – born in Guyana to a former (Scottish) slave owner. He was not only the first black Scottish football player but also went on to captain the Scottish team in 1881 [comparison should be made with K. S. Ranjitsinhji, an Indian student at Cambridge who made his debut for the England cricket team in 1896 and was seen as a bit of pioneer, but Watson in fact proved that even earlier sporting teams that revelled in ‘national’ pride were willing to accept men of a different skin colour and from the colonies – does this mean their idea of ‘Britishness’ or ‘Scottishness’ was broader than we think?]

Merbai Vakil – the first female Indian graduate of Glasgow University, in 1897. In fact, in the early twentieth century, the largest group of ‘foreign’ students in total at British universities were Indian (not American, French or other) – a clear indication of the links that Britain and India had at the time.

Scotland, Lanarkshire, Glasgow University

Glasgow University in the 1890s


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