The Two Cultures
A conversation with Stefan Collini

When C.P. Snow delivered his 1959 Rede Lecture on The Two Cultures what was he doing? Acutely diagnosing a debilitating anti-scientific strain in contemporary Britain? Or bombastically trotting out self-serving clichés to an uncritical public?

We met up with renowned Cambridge literary cri...

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About Stefan Collini:
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Stefan Collini is Professor of English Literature and Intellectual History at the University of Cambridge. He is a frequent contributor to The Times Literary Supplement, The Nation, and The London Review of Books.

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Some Additional Resources:
The Two Cultures

By C.P. Snow

Two Cultures?: The Significance of C. P. Snow

By F. R. Leavis

What are Universities For?

By Stefan Collini

Common Reading: Critics, Historians, Publics

By Stefan Collini

Absent Minds: Intellectuals in Britain

By Stefan Collini


One Word at a Time (Commentary Excerpt)

In what surely must rank as the acme of literary reviews, The Observer once famously remarked that Eric Hobsbawm’s comprehensive “Age of…” historical tetralogy had become “part of the mental furniture of educated Englishmen”.

The French have an expression for such a thing: culture générale. This carries a decidedly different semantic hue than our rather more pedestrian ‘common knowledge’. Common knowledge is what everybody is supposed to possess just by living in the world around them. Culture générale, meanwhile, is what a cultivated person should have at her fingertips; the hard-earned result of a solid, well-rounded education that yields a deeper context.

But sometimes this goes awry. Sometimes it happens that by the time an idea has worked its way into the public consciousness, the context has been hollowed out into a caricature, a cliché.

So it was, for me at least, with The Two Cultures, the celebrated lecture that C.P. Snow gave in Cambridge in 1959.

I thought I knew what The Two Cultures was all about. Indeed, during my years as an evangelical academic administrator, I had quite often explicitly invoked its core message of the need to somehow bridge the increasing gap between the sciences and the humanities so that they can both sufficiently flower.

The trouble was, however, that this wasn’t actually the core message of the work at all. Like most who now glibly refer to The Two Cultures, I had never actually taken the time to read Snow’s lecture. Nor, as it happens, did I know anything about the famously acerbic attack that his principal antagonist, F. R. Leavis, launched against him three years later...

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