Monday, 11 July 2011

pandisciplinarity today

'And generally let this be a rule, that all partitions of knowledges be accepted rather for lines and veins, than for sections and separations; and that the continuance and entireness of knowledge be preserved. For the contrary hereof hath made particular sciences to become barren, shallow, and erroneous; while they have not been nourished and maintained from the common fountain.'
Francis Bacon

The purpose of this blog is to promote 'the common fountain' via the agency of pandisciplinarity, a concept discussed in a pamphlet issued in 1995 and a book published by Anthem Press in 2011, Minutes to Midnight: History and the Anthropocene Era from 1763. 

As this title suggests, the emphasis is on a period of approximately two and a half centuries following the year in which James Watt 'tried some experiments on the force of steam', to use his own words in 1763. To use the words of Paul J. Crutzen and Eugene F. Stoermer in 2000: 'To assign a more specific date to the onset of the 'anthropocene' seems somewhat arbitrary, but we propose the latter part of the eighteenth century, although we are aware that alternative proposals can be made (some may even want to include the entire holocene). However, we choose this date because, during the past two centuries, the global effects of human activities have become clearly noticeable.' (Paul J. Crutzen and Eugene F. Stoermer, 'The Anthropocene' in the IGBP (International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme) Newsletter 41, 2000, 17.) More recently, the subject has been discussed in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Series A, March 2011 and at a Conference held by The Geological Society in London on 11 May 2011, both posing the question:: 'The Anthropocene: A New Epoch of Geological Time?' The urgency of the situation was succinctly conveyed by an observation made at the Conference by the Society's President to the effect that if we carry on as we are, we shall all disappear in carbon-rich slime, irrespective of the term used to describe the process.

The blog agrees with the assertion of Roger Smith: 'it is possible to envisage history as a form of knowledge bridging the institutional divisions between the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities. We need history in order to understand, in the fullest sense of "to understand", any of the forms that knowledge takes.' (Roger Smith, Being Human: Historical Knowledge and the Creation of Human Nature, Manchester UP, 2007, 258, with his italics.) 

The aim of the book Minutes to Midnight is threefold: 1) to note major advances in the natural sciences and their application from James Watt's onwards; 2) to set out an analytical narrative of the Anthropocene Era; 3) to pay particular attention to the development of history as an academic discipline in association with other humanities, the social and natural sciences, and to illustrate its response to the changing circumstances of successive periods. The blog will supplement and amplify this threefold aim, and thus promote 'the common fountain' of the twenty-first century.    

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