I find science and maths a real draw. I often listen to The Life Scientific, Material World and More or Less podcasts ahead of more predictable favourites Making History, The Long View and History Today (though maybe not Friday Night Comedy…)
It was interesting to hear the recent interview on TLS with Sunetra Gupta, novelist and professor of theoretical epidemiology, in which she refused to recognise a division between science and arts, only different ways to express ideas.
From this perspective, the early commitment of Hatfield Technical College to Liberal Studies seems ahead of its time. All students were to have 10 per cent of teaching time allocated to subjects such as History, Economics, Politics, Geography and Modern Languages. It was thought that educating the next generation of engineers and technologists in this balanced way would serve the national interest. So it was rather fitting that C P Snow became the then Hatfield Polytechnic’s first Visitor in 1972.
The humanities have since come into their own as the institution broadened its scope and the model of reserving time for accessing another ‘culture’ did not survive. Now it seems an unrealisable ideal – and student choice may be delivering a narrower range of experiences than was imposed in the 1950s. Would we now be prepared to mandate that all students should take a module a year from different Schools or Departments? What would be the demands on lecturers or the effects on the ‘home’ students? What would be the implications for students’ grades? Then again, if we did do it, what might be the returns?
While academics tend to have a strong sense of disciplinary identity, many of us also have an inclination for greater integration of different ways of expressing ideas. And these may well currently be manifested only in podcast preferences.
But there is often more than unites than divides us. I often find Alice Bell’s blog Through The Looking Glass setting off some mental sparks and work aligning scientific and historical method has proved hugely interesting and useful. The case for interdisciplinarity between ‘science’ and ‘arts’ in meeting some of the biggest challenges we face, such as climate change or an ageing society, is now being made in stronger terms. But how often do we actually bridge the divide? Or if we do, do we tend to contribute to the greater whole from our respective positions as specialists in our disciplines, rather than getting to ‘play in each other’s fields’?