We live in a time when dialogue between the arts, sciences, and humanities is widely encouraged. Funding agencies oﬀer incentives for scientists to work with artists; books are being written that seek to span C.P. Snow’s “gulf of mutual incomprehension” between scholarly cultures (see Wilson 1998); interdisciplinary conferences are being convened that support cross-area dialogue and report the ﬁndings of collaborative projects. There is a sense that previously disconnected ﬁelds of study are actively converging. All this is welcome, given the fractured state of contemporary knowledge.
Born just over 400 years ago, the poet John Milton is reputed to be the last person who would have been able to read every book then in print. Certainly the well-educated person of his time would have understood a wide range of subjects. The subsequent tendency towards micro-specialism in academia has brought breadth and depth at the price of fragmentation and isolation; no longer could any individual hope to absorb more than a tiny fraction of published information, and most disciplines work in ignorance of each other. Ulrich’s directory of periodicals (Ulrich’s 2009), which lists most of the world’s scholarly journals, boasts over 300,000 titles, each representing the tip of an iceberg of accumulated knowledge. And a report in 2002 by the Association of American Colleges and Universities identiﬁed the “atomization of the curriculum,” caused by artiﬁcially dividing knowledge into distinct ﬁelds, as a signiﬁcant barrier to the future of education (AACU 2002).