While reading C.P. Snow’s “The Two Cultures” (1959), I found myself laughing along: as someone who eschews Kindles to paperbound books, I certainly qualify as one of Snow’s “natural Luddites” (23). I also winced when he identified the source of disgruntlement felt by humanities scholars: “young scientists know […] they’ll get a comfortable job, while their contemporaries and counterparts in English and History will be lucky to earn 60 per cent as much.” Ouch! Snow’s got me pinned. I thought back to a recent conversation I’d had with my friend, Davis, a medical engineering graduate student at CU. Davis laughs when I talk about maintaining a 4.0, claiming that he “scrapes by with a B average.” Imagine my feeling of insult when he graduated last winter, landing a high-paying job in his field within days.
At some point, I mentioned to a (non-grad) friend that this disparity was extremely unfair. Why should a B-average scientist earn more/have more job security than a humanities scholar with a near perfect record? The response was quick and defeating: “Well, Jill, Davis designs artificial heart valves. You read books.” Ahh, yes. I’d heard this before. The old debate, and one that Snow also identifies: applied versus pure science. What, after all, do the humanities produce? The sciences are members of the machine, active participants in capitalist production, but the humanities hold themselves staunchly apart: “We [literary scholars] prided ourselves that the science we were doing could not […] have any practical use. The more firmly one could make that claim, the more superior one felt” (34). Snow has, in my opinion, recognized the noose strangling literary scholarship. Our feeling of preserving Art for Art’s Sake, our determination to rage against the Machine, has prevented our field from progressing effectively into the modern world.
I’m sure we’re all familiar with articles like these, which warn incoming college students that English degrees are entirely useless: “As a major, this is the road more traveled by, with not nearly enough writing, teaching, publishing or journalism jobs for all the students who graduate with a yen for the written word. It doesn’t help that many media fields have been upended by the digital revolution.” There it is! Instead of embracing the digital revolution, we have been “upended,” thrown totally for a loop. We’re thought of as a “yen” field, and herein lies the crux of the problem: notions of artistic purity only suffocate an already struggling academic study. To keep this field alive and breathing, we must find a way to bridge the digital gulf and supercede assumptions about our outdated intellectualism.
Newman, Rick. “The 10 Worst Majors for Finding a Good Job.” Yahoo Finance. Yahoo!, 18 June 2013. Web. 30 Aug. 2015.
Snow, C. P. The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. Print.