Edinburgh World Heritage - Enlightenment Made Easy

Enlightenment Made Easy

The Enlightenment was one of the most exciting, innovative and influential periods in Scottish history, and its achievements still impact on us today.

Now, a group of leading Edinburgh-based cultural, scientific, environmental and heritage organisations have come together in partnership with a new programme which helps deliver interdisciplinary learning through the places, people, ideas and creations of the Scottish Enlightenment.

The same values which made Georgian Scots world leaders, are the values which underpin the Curriculum for Excellence. The zest for learning, spirit of inquiry, and desire for debate made the men and women of the Enlightenment global citizens, at the forefront of new ideas affecting almost every area of life.

Let’s unleash a new Age of Enlightenment in Scottish schools!

Download the guide to the Enlighenment Made Easy project (PDF | 562KB)

What’s involved?
Professional learning: Fun, informative and high quality sessions for teachers

Online resources: Ideal for use in the classroom, as well as off-site visits to worldclass places in Edinburgh

A Great Young Minds Society: A club your class can join so that you can take part in visits, debates and activities with other classes and schools involved in the project, just like the great thinkers did during the Enlightenment.

It’s a flexible package: You can pick and choose which bits work best for you and your pupils. That’s the great thing about the Enlightenment - there’s something for everyone!

Who’s who?

Alison Rutherford’s parties were attended by many of the great figures of the Enlightenment. We definitely know some of these people went to them, and there’s a good chance others did too…Find out more about some of these fascinating characters, and how the work they did in the Enlightenment links to life today and every area of the Curriculum for Excellence.

•    Alison Rutherford, whose parties were the original social network of Edinburgh, bringing great minds together through food, dance and debate.
•    Robert Burns, a new boy in town and a great looking heart throb. Alison befriended him when he moved to Edinburgh. He wrote poems and collected songs and was very amusing. He became very famous…
•    Adam Smith, the economist whose work influences how we live today. He was also a bit absent minded, talked to himself, and occasionally also fell into holes; yet, like his friends, he was a genius.
•    James Hutton, a geologist who was interested in everything, volcanoes, canals, plant dyes and soil erosion - but his grammar was not very good!
•    David Hume, the most important philosopher and historian of the day. He was fond of convivial company, discussing ideas, and enjoyed his food and drink. He was one of Alison’s best friends.
•    Robert Adam, the must-have architect for that little place in the country or city elegance, great with fireplaces and inspired by sheep’s heads…
•    Joseph Black, a popular chemist who helped to bring about the industrial revolution. He was known for his sociable nature, card playing, smart clothes and his green umbrella.
•   John Hope, the botanist, turned Edinburgh’s botanic garden into a world leader in the study and cultivation of plants. He was also a little bit obsessed with rhubarb…
•    Lord Hailes, historian and judge, who created a knowledge network connecting great minds in Edinburgh and beyond.
•   James Craig, a young builder who won a competition to design the New Town and who knew a thing or two about politics.
•    William Cullen, a celebrity doctor, who was adored by his students. He had a good bedside manner and a nice little sideline in expensive consultations by post.

Is this just a history topic? No - it’s so much more...!
The Enlightenment is probably the most important piece of Scottish history in the last 300 years - it influences everything we do today and it influenced the entire world. It touches on every area of the Curriculum for Excellence: expressive arts, health and wellbeing, languages, mathematics, religious and moral education, sciences, social studies and technologies are all covered in this one exciting topic – it’s as if the Scottish Enlightenment had been invented for active learning. Teachers can use this partnership initiative to develop interdisciplinary learning programmes which work for them and their pupils, with innovative approaches, relevant content and valuable experiences.

What was the Scottish Enlightenment?
The Scottish Enlightenment was part of a wider European movement, reaching its height in this country between 1750-1800. The great French philosopher and historian Voltaire (1694-1778) said ‘We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation’. At this time European thinkers challenged old ideas about almost every aspect of life. They argued that the way forward was to use “reason” when seeking answers to questions. People should not just accept what they were told, they should question ideas. It was the beginning of the modern world as we know it.

The Scottish Enlightenment covers some things you already teach, like Robert Burns, but there are also other areas of study, including the elegance and mathematics of Robert Adams’ architecture, or the work of the young Edinburgh architect, James Craig which has influenced modern urban planning. We are all fascinated and terrified by volcanoes and it was James Hutton sitting amongst Arthur’s Seat, the Crags and Castle Hill who first looked at the science behind this. It was the forgetful but very clever man Adam Smith whose writings still influence world governments today.

Edinburgh: City of Genius
The Scottish Enlightenment was particularly focused on Edinburgh where a group of extraordinary people came together to create possibly the most dynamic city on Earth. Many of the greatest scientists, artists, philosophers, designers, writers, economists and more were all working side by side,
bouncing their ideas off each other, learning from their friends, and debating their discoveries. They were interested in everything and were truly interdisciplinary in their approaches. They tended to know one another and socialised together. They had much in common, but above all, they shared two
principles: Observation & Analysis.


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