The history men
TWO of Scotland's most eminent history professors are working with the Scottish Government to shape the way children will be taught history in schools.
Professor Tom Devine of Edinburgh University and Professor Ted Cowan of Glasgow University met with Fiona Hyslop, the education secretary, yesterday to discuss how Scottish history should form a key part of education.
Last month, The Scotsman revealed how the Scottish Government wants to put Scottish history at the heart of the new curriculum.
The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) recently announced a Scottish element would form a compulsory part of the Higher history exam in future.
Ms Hyslop and the historians discussed how to make the past relevant to children, and how to develop both their knowledge of local history and Scotland's place in the world.
Ms Hyslop said: "We want young people to become confident individuals who can develop their own sense of identity through an understanding of the events that have shaped their community and country.
"We welcome this opportunity to talk with Prof Devine and Prof Cowan, who are extremely learned and passionate about this subject. Their input on how Scottish history is presented in our schools will help secure the future of the relevance of Scotland's past."
Prof Devine said that the Scottish Government deserved to be congratulated for confronting a subject area for so long "scandalously marginalised" in Scottish education.
He said: "The minister and ourselves are aware of major challenges in implementing their aspirations but I, for one, will try to help to the best of my ability."
Meanwhile, the Scottish Association of Teachers of History (SATH) expressed concerns about unqualified teachers teaching the subject.
Duncan Toms, president of SATH, said: "How can it be a step forward educationally, as opposed to being merely cost-saving and administratively convenient, to hand over the teaching of history from a qualified enthusiast to someone who may or may not, depending on the luck of the draw, have any interest in the subject?
"One can imagine the reaction if parents were to be told that their children did not have to be taught maths by a maths teacher."
However, Ms Hyslop said her comments during a parliamentary debate on history last week had been misunderstood. She said she supported subjects, including history, being taught by trained specialists.
She added: "I am absolutely set that we have to make sure that we have science teachers teaching science, that history teachers will teach history, but that we have the links between subjects."
They'll help decide what our children are taught – so who are they?
PROFESSOR Ted Cowan taught at the universities of Edinburgh, Guelph in Ontario, and Glasgow before taking up his present post as director of the Glasgow University's Crichton Campus.
As professor of Scottish history at Glasgow, he is much in demand as a speaker, journalist and broadcaster.
He has published widely on various aspects of Scottish history and has been a visiting professor in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. His most recent publications are For Freedom Alone: The Declaration of Arbroath 1320 which he revised in 2007, The Wallace Book in 2007, and Folk in Print: Scotland's Chapbook Heritage in the same year.
He is heavily involved in researching the history and heritage of Galloway, Dumfries and the Borders and is also writing an introduction for the forthcoming publication by Birlinn of Alexander Goudie's brilliant sequence of paintings of the Tam o' Shanter story.
He has appeared on the Burns circuit many times in Canada, the US and Scotland.
The historian recently backed calls to return the Lewis Chessmen, held by the British Museum in London, back to the island. He said the 900-year-old ivory pieces, found in a sand-dune in 1831, belong in their proper context on Lewis.
PROFESSOR Tom Devine holds the current Sir William Fraser chair of Scottish history at the University of Edinburgh.
He was previously research professor and director of the AHRC Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies at Aberdeen University.
In departure from tradition, Prof Devine chose to maintain an Aberdeen connection with the centre in an effort to enhance collaboration between the two universities.
He was recognised in the New Year honours in 2005, with an OBE for services to Scottish history.
He is also a winner of the prestigious Royal Gold Medal of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
He also holds honorary degrees from Queen's University Belfast and Abertay University in Dundee, and is a fellow of the British Academy. Prof Devine is the author of more than 100 academic publications. His book The Scottish Nation has sold over 70,000 copies.
His edited book, Scotland's Shame? Bigotry and Sectarianism in 2000, generated considerable controversy and led to his appointment to advise the then Scottish Executive's justice department.
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