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Devine was born into an Irish Catholic family in Motherwell, Scotland. His father was a schoolteacher. He graduated from the University of Strathclyde in 1968 with first class honours in Economic and Social History, the only First awarded in the subject from 1968 to 1978.
In 1969, a few months after beginning doctoral research, he entered employment with the University of Strathclyde as an Assistant Lecturer, and thereafter was promoted to Lecturer, Senior Lecturer and Reader. He was appointed Professor of Scottish History at the University in 1988 and later became Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, then Deputy Principal for a term of four years. In 1998 he moved to the University of Aberdeen to become the founding Director of the newly-established Research Institute of Irish and Scottish and was appointed to the new externally funded Glucksman Professorship of Irish and Scottish Studies. 
In 2005 Devine was appointed to the prestigious Sir William Fraser Chair of Scottish History and Palaeography at the University of Edinburgh, generally recognised as the premier professorial post in the field of Scottish Historical Studies.  He remained in this position until 2011, when he became Personal Senior Research Professor in History, and was founding director of the Scottish Centre for Diaspora Studies until the summer of 2014. Devine finally retired from Edinburgh in 2015 and was appointed Professor Emeritus.
Awards and honours
Devine was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE), Scotland's national academy of sciences and letters, in 1992, and a Fellow of the British Academy in 1994. He was elected an Honorary Member of the Royal Irish Academy in 2001. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, and the Royal Society of Arts
Devine was awarded the Royal Medal, Scotland's supreme academic accolade, by HM The Queen in 2001, the only historian to receive the honour since its institution in 2000. He was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2005 New Year Honours for services to Scottish History. In 2012, he was awarded RSE’s inaugural Sir Walter Scott Prize for his outstanding contribution to Scottish History and a year later the RSE's Senior Beltane Prize for Public Engagement across all disciplines. 
He was knighted in the 2014 Birthday Honours for services to the study of Scottish history,the first historian of Scotland to be so honoured. In 2016 Edinburgh University Press published Global Migrations, edited by Angela McCarthy and John M Mackenzie, 'A tribute to Professor Sir Tom Devine FBA the leading historian of modern Scotland and its diaspora'. In July 2018, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the UK all-party parliamentary group on Archives and History of the Houses of Commons and Lords, the first historian from a Scottish university to be so honoured. Previous awardees were Professor Eric Hobsbawm CH FBA, Asa Lord Briggs FBA,Kenneth Lord Morgan FBA,Sir Keith Thomas FBA and Sir Michael Howard OM FBA.
In all Devine has received eighteen national and international awards and honorary degrees[Sir Tom Devine University of Otago:Centre for Global Migrations.Retrieved 21 January 2019.]
The Times stated (24 January 2013) that 'Professor Tom Devine is as close to a national bard as the nation has.' For Scottish Field (1 September 2014) 'Sir Tom Devine is the rock star of Caledonian historians whose work in unravelling Scottish identity makes him de facto the father of the nation.'
- The Tobacco Lords: A Study of the Tobacco Merchants of Glasgow and their Trading Activities, c. 1740–90 (John Donald, 1975;reprinted Edinburgh University Press, 1992).[a]
- Lairds and Improvement in the Scotland of the Enlightenment (editor and contributor, Scottish History Society, 1978)
- A Scottish Firm in Virginia, 1767–1777, William Cunninghame and Co. (Scottish History Society, 1982)
- Scotland and Ireland, 1600 to 1850 (joint editor and contributor, John Donald, 1983).
- Farm Servants and Labour in Lowland Scotland, 1770–1914 (editor and contributor, John Donald, 1984)
- People and Society in Scotland, Volume 1, 1760–1830 (co-editor and contributor, John Donald, 1988)
- The Great Highland Famine: Hunger, Emigration and the Scottish Highlands in the Nineteenth Century, John Donald, 1988,reprinted 1995, 2008). [b]
- Improvement and Enlightenment (editor and contributor, John Donald, 1989)
- Conflict and Stability in Scottish Society, 1700–1850 (editor and contributor, John Donald, 1990)
- Irish Immigrants and Scottish Society in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century (editor and contributor, 1991)
- Scottish Emigration and Scottish Society (editor and contributor, John Donald, 19
- Clanship to Crofters War: The Social Transformation of the Scottish Highlands (1994; Reprinted 2013, Manchester University Press)
- Scottish Elites (editor and contributor, 1994)
- Farm Servants and Labour in Lowland Scotland, 1770–1914 (editor and contributor, John Donald,reprinted 1994)
- Industry, Business and Society in Scotland since 1700 (co-editor and contributor, 1994)
- The Transformation of Rural Scotland: Social Change and the Agrarian Economy, 1660–1815 (Edinburgh University Press, 1994,reprinted 1998)
- St Mary's Hamilton: A Social History, 1646 – 1996 (editor, John Donald, 1995)
- Exploring the Scottish Past (John Donald, 1995)
- Scotland in the Twentieth Century (co-editor and contributor, Edinburgh University Press, 1996)
- Eighteenth-century Scotland (co-editor and contributor, Tuckwell Press, 1998)
- Celebrating Columba: Irish-Scottish Connections, 597–1997 (co-editor, 1999)
- The Scottish Nation: 1700–2000 (Penguin, 1999).Multiple reprints and new editions,the most recent being The Scottish Nation:A Modern History.As at 2019 the book has sold almost 90,000 copies in hardback and paperback in the UK.
- Scotland's Shame?: Bigotry and Sectarianism in Modern Scotland (editor and contributor, Mainstream Publishing, 2000)
- Being Scottish: Personal Reflections on Scottish Identity Today (2002, co-editor and contributor, Edinburgh University Press)
- Scotland's Empire and the Shaping of the Americas, 1600–1815 (Smithsonian Books, 2003)
- Scotland's Empire, 1600–1815 (Penguin Books, 2003,reprinted 2012).[c]
- The Transformation of Scotland; The Economy since 1700 (co-editor and contributor with Clive Lee and George Peden, Edinburgh University Press, 2005)
- Clearance and Improvement: Land, Power and People in Scotland 1700–1900 (John Donald, 2006)
- The Scottish Nation 1700 to 2007 (revised editions, Penguin, 2006,2012). [d]
- Scotland and the Union 1707 to 2007 (editor and contributor, Edinburgh University Press, 2008)
- Scotland and Poland: Historical Connections (joint editor, John Donald, 2011)
- To the Ends of the Earth: Scotland's Global Diaspora, 1750–2010 (Allen Lane and Penguin Books, 2011, paperback, 2012). [e]
- Scotland and the British Empire (joint editor and contributor, 2011, Oxford University Press)
- The Oxford Handbook of Modern Scottish History, 1500–2010 (joint editor and contributor, 2012, Oxford University Press)
- The Scotland Trilogy (2012, Penguin)
- Recovering Scotland's Slavery Past: The Caribbean Connection (editor and contributor, Edinburgh University Press, 2015).[f]
- Independence or Union: Scotland's Past and Scotland's Present (Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, 2016).[g]
- The Scottish Experience in Asia c. 1700 to the Present: Sojourners and Settlers (joint editor and contributor, Cambridge Imperial and Colonial Series, Palgrave and Macmillan, 2016)
- Scotland and the British Empire (joint editor and contributor, Oxford University Press, 2016)
- Tea and Empire: James Taylor in Victorian Ceylon (joint author, Manchester University Press, 2017).Shortlisted as Research Book of the Year 2018 Saltire Society
- New Scots: Scotland's Immigrant Communities since 1945 (joint editor and contributor, Edinburgh University Press, 2018)
- The Scottish Clearances: A History of the Dispossessed 1600-1900 (Allen Lane: The Penguin Press, 2018,pbk 2019)}A Book of the Year 2018 The Herald,Telegraph and The Times.Waterstones Bookshops ' Scottish Book of the Month' June 2019
- Winner of the Senior Hume Brown Prize for best first book in Scottish history
- Winner of the $altire Society Prize for best book in Scottish history 1989.
- Shortlisted for Saltire History Book of the Year Prize 2004
- New Statesman and The Herald, Book of the Year, 2012
- Book of the Year: The Spectator, New Statesman, Scotland on Sunday, 2011; Book of the Week: The Guardian 2011
- Book of the Year 2015, The Herald
- Book of the Year 2016, Scottish Review of Books
- McCall, Chris. "200 Voices. Sir Tom Devine: The historian telling Scotland's story". The Scotsman. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
- Gerry Braiden, Gerry (2 July 2015). "Sir Tom Devine: Knighthood a recognition of Scotland's Irish immigrants and historical studies". The Herald. Glasgow. Retrieved 23 October 2018.
- "The SRB Interview: Tom Devine". Scottish Review of Books. 12 August 2010. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
- "Helping to shape the future of your newspaper". The Scotsman. 26 January 2007. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
- "Sir Tom Devine". University of Otago: Centre for Global Migrations. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
- Taylor, Alan (14 June 2014). "Sir Tom Devine on past highs, present lows and future plans". The Herald. Glasgow. Retrieved 29 January 2019.
- "Historian retires to write new chapter". Edinburgh Evening News. 14 May 2014. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
- "Tom Devine doubling up". The Scotsman. 29 April 2005. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
- "Fellow. Thomas Devine". Royal Society of Edinburgh. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
- "Fellows: Professor Sir Thomas Devine". British Academy. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
- "Prof Sir Tom Devine". University of Edinburgh: School of History, Classics and Archaelogy. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
- "Fellows - D" (PDF). Royal Historical Society. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
- "New Year Honours". Times Higher Education. 7 January 2005. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
- "Professor Tom Devine awarded Royal Society prize" (Press release). University of Edinburgh. 27 April 2015. Retrieved 29 January 2019.
- Christie, Kevan; Gardner, Claire (14 June 2014). "Scots feature in Queen's Birthday Honours List". The Scotsman. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
- "Sir Tom Devine is the first Scots historian to win this parliamentary award". The Scotsman. 19 July 2018. Retrieved 29 January 2019.