University of Glasgow
#32 Overall Influence

University of Glasgow

University located in Glasgow, Scotland, founded in 1451

By James Barham, PhD

Founded by a decree (“papal bull”) issued by Pope Nicholas V, Glasgow is the fourth-oldest university in the English-speaking world. Only Oxford and Cambridge (see above) and, in Scotland, St. Andrews University (founded in 1413) are older.

Beginning in the nineteenth century, Glasgow was one of the first universities to accept students from the urban and commercial middle classes, instead of restricting entrance to the “gentry” (the landed aristocracy and the very wealthy).

In 1870, the university’s main campus was transferred from High Street in the downtown commercial district to the now–highly fashionable West End neighborhood. Today, the university comprises four major colleges:

  • College of Arts
  • College of Science and Engineering
  • College of Medical, Veterinary, and Life Sciences
  • College of Social Sciences

Moreover, several additional off-site campuses have been brought under the university’s umbrella over the years, notably the School of Veterinary Medicine, originally founded in Glasgow in 1862, and The Crichton, a University of Glasgow campus located in Dumfries, in southwestern Scotland, which comprises a number of different programs, centers, and institutes, including the Crichton Memorial Hospital.

During the first four centuries of its existence, Glasgow was associated with a number of influential intellectuals and public personalities, including:

  • Scholastic philosopher, John Major (Mair)
  • Reformation theologian, follower of John Calvin, and founder of Presbyterianism, John Knox
  • celebrated American Puritan divine, Cotton Mather

During the eighteenth-century Scottish Enlightenment, Glasgow was home to:

  • Philosophers, Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, & Thomas Reid
  • Philosopher and father of economic thought, Adam Smith
  • Jurist, John Millar
  • Jurist and signer of the American Declaration of Independence, James Wilson
  • Novelist, Tobias Smollett
  • Author of the celebrated Life of Johnson, James Boswell
  • Physician and pioneering anatomist, William Hunter
  • Physician and medical philosopher, William Cullen
  • Inventor of the improved steam engine that powered the early decades of the Industrial Revolution, James Watt

During the nineteenth century, eminent Glasgow-connected scientists include the:

  • Mathematician/physicist/engineers, William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) & William Rankine
  • Physicist and chemist, Joseph Black
  • Surgeon and antisepsis pioneer, Joseph Lister

In addition, Glasgow can claim the famous physician, missionary, and explorer, David Livingstone.

In the twentieth century, seven Glasgow-connected individuals have received the Nobel Prize, including:

  • William Ramsay and Frederick Soddy—chemistry
  • James W. Black—physiology or medicine

In addition, the astrophysicist and co-discoverer of pulsars, Jocelyn Bell (Burnell), who graduated from the university, was ignored by the Swedish Academy in its controversial 1974 physics prize award to her male pulsar co-discoverers.

Other well-known nineteenth- and twentieth-century individuals connected to Glasgow are:

  • Folklorist and author of The Golden Bough, J.G. Frazer
  • Ever-popular espionage and adventure novelist, John Buchan
  • Harley Street physician-turned-novelist, A.J. Cronin, author of The Stars Look Down and The Keys of the Kingdom
  • Veterinary surgeon and beloved author, James Herriot (James Alfred Wright) author of All Creatures Great and Small and many other story collections

Highly successful film and television adaptations have been made from the works of all three authors.

In an entirely different literary vein, the Scottish avant-garde novelist, James Kelman—who has created a supple and intelligible method of rendering the authentic Glaswegian dialect his characters use to recount their bleak-as-Beckett lives, taught at the university for a couple of years in the early 2000s.

The University of Glasgow has also contributed three Prime Ministers to the United Kingdom:

  • William Lamb (2nd Viscount Melbourne)
  • Henry Campbell-Bannerman
  • Bonar Law

What is University of Glasgow known for?

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Earth Sciences
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Religious Studies
#62 World Rank
Criminal Justice
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Social Work
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Political Science
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Computer Science

Influential People

Who are University of Glasgow's Most influential alumni?

University of Glasgow's most influential alumni faculty include professors and professionals in the fields of Education, Economics, and Literature. University of Glasgow’s most academically influential people include Adam Smith, William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin, and James Watt.

Adam Smith
Adam Smith

Scottish moral philosopher and political economist

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William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin
William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin

British physicist and engineer

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James Watt
James Watt

British engineer

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Joseph Dalton Hooker
Joseph Dalton Hooker

British botanist, lichenologist, and surgeon

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Joseph Black
Joseph Black

British chemist

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James George Frazer
James George Frazer

Scottish social anthropologist

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Tobias Smollett
Tobias Smollett

18th-century poet and author from Scotland

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John Logie Baird
John Logie Baird

Scottish engineer, innovator, and inventor of the world's first television

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James Boswell
James Boswell

Scottish lawyer, diarist and author

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William Ramsay
William Ramsay

British Scottish physical chemist, 1904 Nobel Prize winner

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Francis Hutcheson
Francis Hutcheson

Irish philosopher, 1694-1746

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John Knox
John Knox

Scottish clergyman, writer and historian

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