Archæology

The assorted finds of Artefact Publishing

Demise of the generalist

Yesterday I finished reading John Keay’s India discovered, a history of the British’s investigations into India’s past during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Aside from the horrors of some of the exploits and attitudes of the men and institutions involved (and looking at the current situation of relations between the United States of America and the Islamic world, sadly not much seems to have changed), the picture is a positive one of brilliant individuals doing the extraordinary. The author remarks on the broad scope of the Asiatic Society’s enquiries (essentially everything) and the achievements of individuals in a multitude of areas of study (archæology, linguistics, numismatics, zoology, mathematics, among others).

The world seems to have moved on from this era when it was possible for an individual to have great knowledge in many disciplines. Specialisation is now the accepted approach, ostensibly because there is so much to know that only through singleminded devotion to a single area of knowledge may any advance be made. I am not convinced that this is true.

Regardless of what is necessary to increase the sum of human knowledge, I think it’s important that wide-ranging interests not be squelched by an attitude that everything is best left in the hands of specialists. That leads to apathy on the one hand and an “I know best” outlook on the other.

Posted by jamie on May 12, 2003 16:22+12:00

Comments

I couldn't agree more. The rise of the specialist has had the effect of taking away our responsibility for those areas deemed too difficult for us generalists to understand.

"Trust Me - I'm an expert", is the clarion call to which we all must respond with the rousing chorus, "We don't!"

Well said; thanks jamie

Posted by: Lindsay N on May 14, 2003 06:07+12:00