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Biomedicine in museums

Has the emergence of the life sciences reconfigured C. P. Snow's two-cultures thesis?

By October 7, 2008No Comments

Next year is 50 years since C. P. Snow delivered his famous lecture ‘The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution’, suggesting that as cultured citizens we need to know as much about the second law of thermodynamics as the plays of Shakespeare.

To celebrate this event, and to raise the question whether Snow’s notion has any relevance today, Science Museum and Tate Modern are organizing a two-day event on the theme ‘Art and Science Now: The Two Cultures in Question’:

In a world of increasing disciplinary specialisation in which there has been exponential growth of sub-disciplines in both science and the humanities, it will also ask whether the distinctions between and indeed within the two cultures might have become further entrenched. The most fundamental question this celebration of 50 years since Snow’s lecture will ask, though, is how the terms of the debate may have changed.

There will be an academic conference at Science Museum on 23 January and a more public meeting at Tate Modern the day after. The Science Museum conference will consider questions such as:

  • How have new technologies such as the internet and new resources like Wikipedia reconfigured our sense of disciplinary boundaries, hierarchies of knowledge and the places where cultural capital is held?
  • Has the new dominance within general culture of ideas drawn from the ‘life sciences’ — molecular biology, genetics and biochemistry, ecology, epidemiology — and their unpredictable pressings upon fundamental questions of how and why humans and other organisms should find themselves and their relationships defined in particular ways, led to an ever more complex and porous boundary between science and the humanities?
  • How are Snow’s notions of disciplinary and national cultures to be rethought through the paradigms and politics of globalisation?

Good questions, especially the second one. I guess you could say that parts of medicine has always been a meeting ground between science and the humanities.

If someone would like to present, then send a 200-word abstract by 1 November to Laura Salisbury, School of English and Humanities, Birkbeck College,

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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