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Devine's main research interest is the history of the Scottish nation since c. 1600 and its global connections and impact. He is regarded as the leading authority on the history of modern Scotland.
Born in Motherwell, Devine was educated at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, from 1964 to 1968, and graduated with first class honours in Economic and Social History, followed by a PhD and DLitt. He rose through the academic ranks from Assistant Lecturer to Reader, Professor, Head of Department, and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences; he was Deputy Principal of Strathclyde University from 1993 until 1997. In 1998 he accepted the Directorship of the world's first Centre of advanced research in Irish and Scottish Studies at the University of Aberdeen (the Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies), which was formally inaugurated by President Mary McAleese of Ireland on St Andrew's Day 1999. Over the following five years, over £2.5m was raised for the Centre's research programmes from AHRC – which led to the establishment of the AHRC Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies, funded competitively over 2 phases – the Leverhulme Trust and the British Academy, and a further £1.6m endowment given by the Glucksman family in the USA for a Research Chair in Irish and Scottish Studies, which Devine held as Founding Professor until 2005.
In April 2005, he was appointed to the Sir William Fraser Chair of Scottish History and Palaeography at the University of Edinburgh, the world's oldest and most distinguished Chair of Scottish History, which he took up in January 2006. In 2008 he became Director of the Scottish Centre for Diaspora Studies at Edinburgh, established by an external endownment of £1 million by a leading Scottish fund manager and his family. This is reckoned to be the single largest private donation ever made to a UK university for the development of historical studies. Devine retired from the Fraser Chair in the summer of 2011 but returned to employment by invitation at the University of Edinburgh in January 2012 to a Personal Senior Research Chair of History which was especially founded for this purpose. He finally retired from Edinburgh in summer 2014 and is now Sir William Fraser Professor of Scottish History and Palaeography Emeritus in the University.
He is the author or editor of 36 books and close to 100 articles on topics as diverse as emigration, famine, identity, Scottish transatlantic commercial links, urban history, the economic history of Scotland, Empire, the Scottish Highlands, the Irish in Scotland, sectarianism, stability and protest in the 18th century Lowlands, Scottish elites, the Anglo-Scottish Union, rural social history, Caribbean slavery and Scotland, the global impact of the Scottish people and comparative Irish and Scottish relationships. The Scottish Nation (1999) became an international best-seller, selling over 70,000 copies to date in the UK alone, and for a short period even outselling the adventures of Harry Potter in Scotland when first published.
Devine has won all three major prizes for Scottish historical research (Hume Brown, Saltire and Henry Duncan Prize Lectureship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh), is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (elected 1992), a Fellow of the British Academy (elected 1994), and an Honorary Member of the Royal Irish Academy (elected 2001): until 2014 the only UK Humanities or Social Science scholar elected to all three of these national academies in the British Isles. Professor Devine holds the honorary degrees of DLitt from Queen's University Belfast and the University of Abertay Dundee and the honorary degree of DUniv from Strathclyde. In 2006 he was awarded the first John Aikenhead Medal for services to Scottish education by the Institute of Contemporary Scotland and in the same year Bell College (now part of the University of the West of Scotland) conferred on him an Honorary Fellowship in recognition of his contributions to Scottish culture. In 2000 he was awarded the Royal Gold Medal, Scotland's supreme academic accolade, by Queen Elizabeth II (one of only two humanities scholars so honoured since the inauguration of these awards in 2000) and was appointed OBE in the 2005 New Years Honours List for "services to Scottish history". In 2012 Devine won the Senior Royal Society of Edinburgh/Beltane Prize for Excellence in Public Engagement across all Disciplines and in that year too the Society's Inaugural Sir Walter Scott Senior Prize for Excellence in the Humanities and Creative Arts. One of his recent books, Scotland's Empire 1600–1815 (2003) formed the basis of a six-part BBC2 series in 2005. He was knighted in the 2014 Birthday Honours for "services to the study of Scottish history", the first academic historian to be so honoured for specific contributions to that discipline. Listed in Top Twenty (no 16) of The Herald newspaper's 'Scotland's Power 100 : The 100 Most Powerful and Influential People in Scotland 2014' : ' The nation's preeminent historian, a towering and fearless intellect ... an academic tornado from early in his career (who has) reshaped the way the Scottish past is viewed'.[The Herald 26.11.2014]
Named Lectures presented over the last decade include: Post Office Lecture; Edinburgh Lecture; Trades House of Glasgow Lecture; Educational Institute of Scotland Lecture; Haldane Tait lecture; Annual Adam Smith Memorial Lecture, Kirkcaldy, 2013; Annual University of the Highlands and Islands Lecture; Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun Memorial Lecture, Saltire Society; Prothero Lecture, Royal Historical Society; General Council Lecture,University of Edinburgh in Hong Kong ; O'Donnell Lectures of the University of Wales; General Teaching Council for Scotland National Lecture; Royal Society of Edinburgh Annual Christmas Lecture; Royal Society of Edinburgh Sir Walter Scott Prize Lecture; Royal Society of Edinburgh/Beltane Prize Lecture for Public Engagement; AB Emden Lecture, St Edmund Hall, Oxford; Margaret Harris Lecture on Religion, University of Dundee, 2013; Roy Paterson Memorial Lecture 2013; St Mungo Lecture Glasgow Cathedral 2014; Road Ahead Prestige Lecture Engineering Scotland, 2014; Stevenson Lecture on Citizenship, University of Glasgow 2014; John Durkan Centenary Lecture,University of Glasgow 2014;Sir John A Macdonald Bicentenary Lecture, Glasgow City Chambers, Canadian High Commission 2015
Devine has a high media profile both at home and abroad, regularly contributing articles and comments in the press and often appearing on TV and radio in historical, cultural and current affairs programmes.
Tom Devine was a member of the Research Awards Advisory Committee of the Leverhulme Trust from 2003 to 2009 (adviser on all history fellowship applications) and held Adjunct Professorships at the University of North Carolina and the University of Guelph, Canada. He was Head of the School of History, Classics and Archaeology from 2008 to 2009 in the University of Edinburgh. Devine has also been a Trustee of the National Museums of Scotland and a Member of Council of the British Academy.
Thomas Martin Devine has been appointed to the Advisory Board of the European Association of History Educators – EUROCLIO.
- Recovering Scotland's Slavery Past :the Caribbean Connection (editor and contributor),forthcoming,Edinburgh University Press,2015.
- Clanship to Crofters War: The Social Transformation of the Scottish Highlands (Manchester,1994); Reprinted 2013, Manchester University Press.
- The Scotland Trilogy (2012, Penguin) (published as a set in new pbk format, pp 1630)
- The Oxford Handbook of Modern Scottish History, 1500–2010 (joint editor, 2012, Oxford University Press)
- Scotland and the British Empire (joint editor, 2011, Oxford University Press)
- To the Ends of the Earth: Scotland's Global Diaspora, 1750–2010 (US edition, Smithsonian Books, 2011)
- To the Ends of the Earth: Scotland's Global Diaspora, 1750–2010 (Allen Lane and Penguin Books, 2011, 2012)
- Scotland and Poland: Historical Connections (joint editor, John Donald, 2011)
- Scotland and the Union 1707 to 2007 (editor, Edinburgh University Press, 2008)
- The Scottish Nation 1700 to 2007 (revised editions, Penguin, 2006, 2012)
- Clearance and Improvement: Land, Power and People in Scotland 1700–1900 (John Donald,2006)
- The Transformation of Scotland; The Economy since 1700 (co-author with Clive Lee and George Peden, Edinburgh University Press, 2005, ISBN 0-7486-1433-8)
- Scotland's Empire, 1600–1815 (Penguin Books, 2003, 2012)
- Scotland's Empire and the Shaping of the Americas, 1600–1815 (Smithsonian Books, 2003)
- Being Scottish: Personal Reflections on Scottish Identity Today (2002, co-editor with P Logue, Edinburgh University Press)
- Scotland's Shame?: Bigotry and Sectarianism in Modern Scotland (editor, Mainstream Publishing, 2000, ISBN 1-84018-330-6)
- The Scottish Nation: 1700–2000 (Penguin, 1999, ISBN 0-14-023004-1)
- Celebrating Columba: Irish-Scottish Connections, 597–1997 (co-editor with JF McMillan,1999)
- People and Society in Scotland, 1760–1830 (co-editor with R. Mitchison, John Donald, 1998)
- Eighteenth-century Scotland (co-editor with J.R. Young, Tuckwell, 1998)
- Scotland in the Twentieth Century (co-editor with Richard J. Finlay, Edinburgh University Press, 1996)
- Exploring the Scottish Past (1995)
- St Mary's Hamilton: A Social History, 1646 – 1996 (editor, 1995)
- The Transformation of Rural Scotland: Social Change and the Agrarian Economy, 1660–1815 (1994)
- Industry, Business and Society in Scotland since 1700 (co-editor with AJG Cummings,1994)
- Farm Servants and Labour in Lowland Scotland, 1770–1914 (editor, 1994)
- Scottish Elites (1994)
- Clanship to Crofters' War (Manchester University Press, 1994)
- Scottish Emigration and Scottish Society (editor, 1992)
- Irish Immigrants and Scottish Society in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century (editor, 1991)
- Conflict and Stability in Scottish Society, 1700–1850 (editor, 1990)
- Improvement and Enlightenment (editor, 1989)
- The Great Highland Famine (1988, 1995, 2008)
- People and Society in Scotland , Volume 1, 1760–1830 (co-editor with R. Mitchison, 1988)
- Farm Servants and Labour in Lowland Scotland, 1770–1914 (editor, 1984)
- Scotland and Ireland, 1600 to 1850 (joint editor, 1983)
- A Scottish Firm in Virginia, 1767–1777, William Cunninghame and Co. (1982)
- Lairds and Improvement in the Scotland of the Enlightenment (1978)
- The Tobacco Lords: A Study of the Tobacco Merchants of Glasgow and their Trading Activities, c. 1740–90 (1975, 1992)
- Prof Tom Devine on Debrett's Limited website.
- "Scotland's Chronicler" (The Herald, 17 July 1999); "nobody has done more over the past thirty years to bring Scottish historiography into rigorous and unsentimental alignment with developments elsewhere than Tom Devine" (Colin Kidd, The Times Literary Supplement Scotland's Empire: The Origins of the Global Diaspora); "no individual has done more than Devine to advance our understanding of modern Scottish history at home and abroad over the last three decades" (Scottish Historical Review 2012); "the undoubted doyen of the field" (Prof David Armitage, Harvard, Times Literary Supplement, 13 January 2012); "Professor Tom Devine is as close to a national bard as the nation has" (Magnus Linklater (24 January 2013). "'Time to drop Burns myths that disguise true nature of Scotland'". The Times. Retrieved 26 January 2013.; "Tom Devine is Scotland's leading historian" (Scottish Review, 6 November 2013); "His three great works,published in the last fifteen years ... form the most extensive and lucid narrative yet published about Scotland" (The Observer, 21 June 2014).
- The London Gazette: . 14 June 2014.