Professor Michael Anderson (Doctor of Letters)

Wednesday 16 July, 11am

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"I have a huge admiration for the University and am delighted and honoured to receive this degree."


Born and educated in Surrey, I read a year of modern languages and two years of economics and sociology (and one course in economic history!) at the University of Cambridge. This lead to a PhD in Cambridge with the title ‘Family Structure in Nineteenth Century Lancashire’, which subsequently became my first book and is still widely cited today.

In 1967 I joined the Sociology Department at the University of Edinburgh and taught a range of courses in all years of the curriculum before transferring in 1979 to the Chair Professor of Economic History, which I held until I retired in 2008. Throughout all these years, I taught a wide range of economic, social and population history courses, and also, in my last eight years the MSc course in Research Design which is taken each year by over 100 social science research students in Edinburgh.

My principal research interests initially focused on the history and sociology of the family but these subsequently broadened in three main directions. First, I began to work much more extensively on population history, and am now widely regarded as the principal practitioner in Scotland of research into its population history. Second, my sociological work continued, with many years research into the social economy of the household and, in particular, how, when, and who makes medium and long-term plans for themselves and their families. Third, in the 1970s, I was the first person in the UK to develop a large-scale digital transcription of nineteenth century census enumeration material (some 400,000 people from the 1851 census). The coding and processing procedures that were first developed in this project have informed most subsequent work in the UK, culminating in the recently completed digital transcriptions of all the British nineteenth century enumeration books which was led by Kevin Schurer of the University of Leicester.

Alongside this ongoing teaching and research, from the mid-1980s I became increasingly involved in management roles in the University of Edinburgh, serving as Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, Vice-Principal (twice), Acting Principal and ending up as Senior Vice-Principal (the equivalent of Deputy Vice-Chancellor in the English system) from 2000 to 2007.  I also chaired (on more than one occasion each) both the University’s Library and its Computing Committees and it was through these that I first became involved in UK national library policy, serving all three rounds of the HE Funding Councils library reviews (the Follett Committees).

From 2000 to 2012, I chaired the trustees of the National Library of Scotland, working with a new National Librarian to transform it into the much more public-friendly and world-class institution that it is today.

Between 1974 and 1992 I served on four different subject committees of the Social Science (subsequently Economic and Social) Research Council (Economic and Social History, Computing, Research Resources and Methods, and Society and Politics), and I was a member of the ESRC Council from 1990 to 1994 and the first chair of its Research Resources Board. I also served for four years on the Research and Innovation Strategic Advisory Committee of the Higher Education Funding Council for England. I am currently a member of the Office of National Statistics UK Population Theme Advisory Board.

My other particular connection with the University of Leicester has its origins in work that I undertook in my years as Senior Vice-Principal in Edinburgh. Many universities have now adopted some version of the ‘Edinburgh’ college and school model, and this includes Leicester, where I spent many fascinating days both helping with senior colleagues to think through a model for the University, and also advising on the appointments of most of the Pro-Vice-Chancellors that have been appointed to this date.

I was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1989 and of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1990 and subsequently served on the Councils of both these bodies, as well as on the Councils of both the Economic and Social History Societies. I was appointed OBE in 1999 for ‘Services to Education’, and was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the Faculty of Actuaries in 2007 and an Honorary Degree of the University of Edinburgh in the same year.


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