A man for all reasons: Adam Smith 300 event at University of Glasgow

This year marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of one of Scotland’s most renowned sons, economist and philosopher Adam Smith. Smith both studied and taught at the University of Glasgow, hence the business school there shares his name. Ambition editor and alumna Colette Doyle finds out how this 572-year-old university plans to commemorate the life of a truly remarkable scholar 

The wealth of nations and The theory of moral sentiments may have been published by Adam Smith in the mid‑18th century, but they are no mere dusty tomes; Smith’s work is one for the ages and his writing still has huge relevance in the digital era. 

A leading Scottish Enlightenment figure, Smith was born in Kirkcaldy, Fife in June 1723 and started his studies at the University of Glasgow aged 14. He later taught there under two guises: first as professor of logic in 1751 and, a year later, as professor of moral philosophy; he was appointed as rector in 1787. Smith’s legacy is being celebrated by the university and its eponymous business school through a series of events, brought together under the umbrella title Adam Smith 300, between now and June. 

 “Adam Smith left an indelible impact on the University of Glasgow, on the fields of economics and moral philosophy and on the wider world. His writings introduced new ideas, insights and concepts that have shaped our understanding of economics today, but were revolutionary in their time”, comments Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, principal and vice-chancellor at University of Glasgow.  

He adds: “To mark the tercentenary of his birth, we will see academics and students, as well as members of the public, discuss his continued relevance at a series of events taking place in Glasgow and around the world.”   

Competition time, tartan & TikTok

One of these planned initiatives is Rethinking Adam Smith, led by the Economics Observatory in partnership with the Adam Smith Business School. This is a nationwide competition in which students are invited to design a new cover for one of Smith’s books. There will be prizes of up to £750 for the best entries, with all finalists having their work displayed in June as part of the university’s tercentenary celebrations. 

The school has also capitalised on its Scottish heritage and designed its own commemorative tartan. It has been made into a lambswool scarf at a local mill and will be available at pop-up shops at various Adam Smith tercentenary events, as well as at the university gift shop. Its main thread is the university blue with subtle hints of green and yellow alongside a check of burgundy, tying in with the university’s brand colours.

Despite being one of the UK’s most ancient seats of learning (it is the fourth-oldest such institution in the English-speaking world), University of Glasgow is keen to move with the times and the business school is one of the first in the country to launch on digital video-hosting service TikTok. The school will use the platform to educate users about Adam Smith and how his legacy lives on in its graduates.

In addition, the school is working with 12 PhD students to showcase their research in vlog-style videos capturing their passion and world-changing work, as well as demonstrating how they follow Adam Smith’s legacy to engender social good. 

Audio experiences of all kinds

Meanwhile, the Adam Smith Heritage Trail aims to deliver the unique story of Smith and his connection to the business school and University of Glasgow through a ‘lived’ radio play experience, accessed via smartphone. It is designed to enhance student identification with the business school. The trail will also help facilitate students’ orientation between the Gilmorehill campus and the location of the new school building – which will be operational by the start of the next academic year in September – through GPS.

An audio experience of an entirely different kind involves a piece of classical music that has been commissioned by a Scottish composer to convey a sense of Adam Smith’s legacy over time, as well as his imprint on the university today. The finished piece will be recorded by a string trio and played live at a day-long symposium to be held on 10 June.

  • Adam Smith 300 highlights

The Adam Smith tercentenary global lecture series features internationally renowned speakers from the worlds of academia, business and public policy

An on-campus and virtual exhibition of significant and rare Smith‑related artefacts will display letters, first edition books and material from the university’s archives

New research into Smith’s life and writings is being undertaken

The Royal Economic Society and Scottish Economic Society joint conference will be held in April, with global academics reflecting upon Smith’s legacy 

The event culminates in a week-long series of activities in June, including talks and exhibitions, with scholars from the London School of Economics,
the universities of Princeton and Harvard and the University of Cambridge all taking part.

Find out more at https://www.gla.ac.uk/explore/adamsmith300/events/

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