Falkirk Wheel, Panoramic view.

Falkirk Wheel, Panoramic view.
Image by Cameron Lyall, GNU license Wikimedia

23 June 2011

University as (post)Industrial Site

I don’t know if this is the most significant representation of Dundee’s industrial past and postindustrial future, but for me the University of Dundee itself certainly encapsulates the shift from industrial to postindustrial. The university itself has a somewhat different history than the city. For a long time, Dundee was without a noteworthy higher education center – until 1881 when the university college was founded. Initially, the university was small, focused on developing students in the majors of Math and Natural Philosophy; Chemistry; Engineering and Drawing; English Language, Literature, and Modern History; and Philosophy. Though degrees were initially given through exams at the University of London, the school was incorporated into the University of St. Andrews in 1897, which greatly helped St. Andrews, whose student population was declining significantly. St. Andrews also benefited from the industrial money involved in the manufacturing industry in Dundee and the more “practical” degrees being conferred there, like law, dentistry, and medicine. In 1954 the university was renamed Queens College and then the University of Dundee in 1967.

What’s striking to me about the university as a industrial and then postindustrial site is that it was initially a support to the surrounding community of Dundee (focusing on practical degrees that helped promote and develop the industrial labor of the town). Emphasizing this support further is the relationship that the school had with the University of St. Andrews, as St. Andrews primarily benefited from the industrial money that was in Dundee, gained numbers in the additional students Dundee brought in, and took advantage of the practical degrees in technical industries, and profession-based careers that brought money and students to the University of Dundee. It’s also worth mentioning that Dundee was brought in much closer contact with the city of St. Andrews in large part because of the second Firth of Tay rail bridge project, which was completed in 1887. This industrial transportation connection may further communication between the cities possible.

When the university broke formal ties with St. Andrews, it took a big risk, leaving behind the substantial support, prestige, and endowment money that St. Andrews no doubt held. I can’t say for sure, but I imagine that the early days of the independent University of Dundee were much like the city itself in the early days of the twentieth century (that is, about 50 years before): uncertain of its path as a middle-of-the-road institution/place and watching as its resources are going to support knowledge and work that was out-of-date.

What the University seems to have figured out in the 1970s (somewhat ahead of the city, which is usually the case) is a specific direction for the future – focusing on the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design (especially now with the new Comic Art degree) and continuing to pursue high-tech degrees in medicine, dentistry, molecular biology, biochemistry and genetics, where the university is becoming well-known. While this path certainly isn’t the same path as all industrial-to-postindustrial cities, it’s comparable.

1 comment:

salvo said...

Information age? Knowledge work? Incubators and commercial applications; technology transfer. And all without a verb :-)