To mark the tercentenary of Adam Smith, The Herald, in partnership with the University of Glasgow, today launches a five-part commemoration of the life and works of the remarkable son of Kirkcaldy and renowned Father of Economics  

As economist, philosopher, educator, writer, orator and world citizen, Adam Smith and his intellectual reflections have a genuinely broad appeal – and often broader interpretations – among governments, legislators, academics, literati and students all over the world. This universal fascination has now lasted for 300 years.

This five-part commemoration of Smith’s tercentenary offers a closer look at both his personal life and academic career, from his birth and early studies in Kirkcaldy, through university life and, ultimately, into an elevated place in the Scottish Enlightenment. 

Helping us on our journey will be Smith experts and tomorrow, in part two, we are joined by Dr Craig Smith, Adam Smith Senior Lecturer in the Scottish Enlightenment at the University of Glasgow.

Dr Smith explains that the tercentenary will seek to open out the discussion around Adam Smith and his philosophy.

“Often universities have an anniversary and bring in some academics who talk to each other and that’s it. We’ll have an academic programme on the latest research on Smith but, importantly, we’re also hosting events that are more public facing, such as the lectures from Professors Sir Angus Deaton and Deirdre Nansen McCloskey, while the Symposium on Saturday will be a truly open and engaging event.

“We’re asking people who know about Smith and have thought about him to draw on his work to talk about contemporary problems and issues. So there’s a nice scholarship angle, recognising and advancing research into his work, but also a strong focus on bringing him to a wider audience.”

Of course, no commemoration would be complete without an examination of Smith’s great literary achievements: The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments. 
Delving deep into their pages, in part three we will have expert commentary and analysis on the economic, political and moral philosophy posited so eloquently in these enduring works – and the effect these views had at the time and that still resonate today.

His historic place is in no doubt but what of his legacy? Part four of this special series will examine how modern society globally has been shaped by a single Scotsman down the past 300 years, with Smith’s perdurable influence still shaping and reshaping the world as we know it, including the role of women in politics and society.

So, where does Adam Smith fit into the 21st Century? Day five will offer interviews from a range of economists, academics and political commentators, all of whom will be attending a symposium at the University of Glasgow to discuss the lasting impact of Smith and how he is viewed today. 

Professor Graeme Roy, Dean of External Engagement and Professor in Economics at the Adam Smith Business School says:“The tercentenary events are much more than a commemoration of an historical Scottish figure. A key aim is to improve our understanding of Adam Smith and his writings and appreciate the true breadth and plurality of his work. After all, the principles that shaped his thinking still resonate today – while the times and issues are different, the underlying but interlocking questions of morality and economics are similar.

The Herald:

“Our second aim is to use the tercentenary to support fresh and engaging debates – very much in the spirit of the Scottish Enlightenment – about the economy in 2023 and our future prosperity.”

Of course, the tercentenary commemoration will transcend this week and these pages.

Throughout 2023, the University of Glasgow, along with key UK and global partners will host a series of events, including conferences, academic workshops, lectures, student activities, public talks and exhibitions.

Confirmed speakers include Gita Gopinath, Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Nobel Prize winner Professor Sir Angus Deaton, and Distinguished Professor of Economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Deirdre Nansen McCloskey.

The lectures by Gita Gopinath and Professor Sir Angus Deaton are supported by The Hunter Foundation. Other activities, including Professor McCloskey’s lecture, are part of a series of events supported by the John Templeton Foundation.

This week will conclude with a public event on June 10, where Smith’s ideas will be debated and discussed along with displays of Smith artefacts from the University’s archives, a theatre production of Smith’s, life and the premier of new music commissioned to mark the tercentenary.

Professor Kathleen Riach, a member of the Adam Smith Tercentenary Project Team, says the commemoration will reinforce the relevance of the great thinker and economist in the present day: “Adam Smith speaks about incredibly important social and societal demands and the way an individual operates in society for good for bad. That’s still highly relevant to the way we operate in society today.

The Herald:

“What I hope the tercentenary events this week will demonstrate, in a critically reflective way to a much wider audience, is in contemporary society Smith still gives us is a way of starting to think about the relationships we have and what the consequences of those relationships may be.” 

Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Glasgow said: “The legacy Adam Smith left on the world is profound, not only as the father of modern economics but as an important thinker of the Enlightenment and as a citizen who helped to shape so many of our ideals and systems in Scotland today.

The Herald:

“Smith is one of our most famous alumni at the University of Glasgow and it’s been fantastic to see scholars from across the world come together to work with us to commemorate and evaluate Smith’s legacy. We hope as many people as possible will join us and participate in the Adam Smith 300 programme in the days ahead.”


Fifer’s journey is woven into the symbol of Scotland

A bespoke tartan has been created to honour Adam Smith’s tercentenary, beautifully woven into a lambswool scarf at Lochcarron in Selkirk. 

The Herald:

Designed by the University of Glasgow Adam Smith Business School and recognised in the Scottish Register of Tartans, its main thread is in University blue to represent the Firth of Forth, while hints of green mark his tenure in Glasgow.

Yellow represents his days at school in Kirkcaldy, and it’s finished in a burgundy check from the University colours.

“The Business School tartan commemorates Adam Smith’s life, work and the impact he is continuing to have in the world 300 years on from his birth,” says Head of Adam Smith Business School, Professor John Finch. 

“It’s a fitting tribute to our most famous alumnus.”


The extraordinary life and lasting legacy of Adam Smith

“By far the most useful and therefore as by far the happiest and most honourable period of my life.”

This is how the Scotsman now known globally as the Father of Economics recalled his professorial years at the University of Glasgow. It is surely testament to the hugely positive impact this bastion of learning had on his life . . . for what an extraordinary life Adam Smith experienced.

Baptised on June 5, 1723, in Kirkcaldy, he was raised by his mother Margaret Douglas after the early death of his father, also Adam. 

The Herald:

After studying Latin, writing, mathematics and history at the Burgh School of Kirkcaldy from 1729 to 1737, he joined the University of Glasgow aged 14 before going on to the University of Oxford for six years. 

After a period of freelance lecturing, he was reunited with his beloved Glasgow as Professor of Logic in 1751 then a year later as Professor of Moral Philosophy – he published The Theory of Moral Sentiments in 1759, incorporating his Glasgow lectures – a post he held until 1764.

Having been offered a position as private tutor to the young Duke of Buccleuch on his Grand Tour of Europe, Smith soon found inspiration in the key players of the Physiocrat movement and, as in his homeland, was warmly welcomed by the intellectual society of Paris. 

The subsequent pension from this adventure allowed Smith to work on what would become his magnum opus, the phenomenally successful book The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776.

In 1778 Smith assumed the role of Commissioner of Customs and relocated to Edinburgh and Panmure House, where he lived with his mother and cousin, Janet Douglas, hosting many leading figures in academia, politics and literature.

The liveliness and rigour of their debates focused on key developments in Scottish Enlightenment thinking became well known. 

While there, he also produced revisions of The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments. He maintained a connection with the University of Glasgow through his role as rector.

Smith died in 1790 and was laid to rest in Canongate Kirk Cemetery in Edinburgh.

Look out for part two of our Adam Smith tercentenary  series in tomorrow’s Herald