Kevin Brown Historian

History of health, medicine and naval history

Bridging the Arts-Science Divide

For a gentleman scholar of the nineteenth century, there was no conflict between arts and sciences. Both made up knowledge or ‘scientia’ in its original meaning. Since then increasing specialisation has meant that science and the humanities have often disconnected. Yet in a civilised democracy it is important to reconnect and communicate across the divide.

Almroth Wright studied literature, law and medicine before becoming the godfather of British microbiology and the inspiration for George Bernard Shaw's Doctors Dilemma

Almroth Wright studied literature, law and medicine before becoming the godfather of British microbiology and the inspiration for George Bernard Shaw’s Doctors Dilemma as well as a great publicist and promoter of medical  science to the public

My own discipline of medical history was once the preserve of doctors and concerned with technical and scientific advances. Only recently have historians such as Roy Porter intruded on the domain of the doctors with the study of the social history of medicine, but many doctors remain reluctant to accept the intrusion of ignorant laymen as they see them.

My own approach comes from a humanities background and in my writings I have attempted to use literature, art, music and philosophy to explore the history of medicine. However to be credible and accepted by a medical and scientific audience, I have rightly had to learn the science and medical lore behind my subject in order to understand and be understood; indeed at the end of a seminar with microbiologists, I was once asked whether I was a bacteriologist or historian. I hope that didn’t mean I was equally bad at both!

At the same time, non-scientists need to know more about science and medicine if they are able to make meaningful decisions about their lives and the world based on true understanding helped by the history of science or medicine.

Modern knowledge denies today's man the possibility of becoming a polymath

Modern knowledge denies today’s man the possibility of becoming a polymath

We may never return to the days of the Renaissance polymath, but understanding across the arts-science divide is crucial in the modern world.


One comment on “Bridging the Arts-Science Divide

  1. Matthew Wright
    April 18, 2015

    I agree – and have had virtually the same experience! There is a great deal of cross-fusion between the arts (history especially) and the sciences. I’ve studied both – most of my work has been in history to the point where the Royal Historical Society elected me a Fellow on merit of my scholarship in that field. However, I also did the sciences (physics, mainly). Last year I was able to blend both in a book on earthquakes in New Zealand, which was published by Random House. It confused a lot of interviewers, who couldn’t work out how a ‘historian’ could possibly understand ‘sciences’. I finally told one of them the issue was actually more the other way around…

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This entry was posted on October 3, 2014 by in Uncategorized.
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