This piece is the gist of a talk to Aberdeen University Natural Philosophy graduates in September 1992 given as part of a grand reunion celebration. Some post 1992 comments have been added.
"Take your mind back to the late 15th century society in which our University was founded in Aberdeen: people's everyday lives were ruled by folk-lore, custom, mysticism and religion; it was an age when credulity and superstition were rife. Science, either as a concept, a philosophical framework or simply as a source of new technology was hardly anywhere to be seen. The academic knowledge of the day resided with a great association of learned men, held together across the continent of Europe by a unified Church. They founded in this apparently isolated corner of the NE of Scotland not just a third Scottish University but a seat of scholarship completely integrated with its fellow seats in Paris, Bologna, Orleans, Prague and other cities of Europe. The founding document speaks of 'learning as a pearl, pointing the way to a wise and worthwhile model of life: it opens the way to the secrets of the Universe'. Our founder, Bishop Elphinstone, was not simply another bookish cleric. As a student of Glasgow University he had gained distinction in logic and physics, the essence of our own discipline. The three notable achievements of his life all had a strong technical element: he set on foot the building of the Bridge of Dee, over which almost anyone who comes by road to Aberdeen from the South still crosses, he raised a tower for St Machar's Cathedral and he built King's College, with its technically sophisticated crown. Elphinstone's university syllabus followed the learning of the times, in which Aristotle's work reigned supreme in logic, physics and metaphysics (...)"
The complete article can be downloaded as a PDF.