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