Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Cultural Synthesis in Research Pedagogy: The Puzzle of George Crabbe's "The Voluntary Insane"

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Cultural Synthesis in Research Pedagogy: The Puzzle of George Crabbe's "The Voluntary Insane"

Article excerpt


One of the most direct approaches to addressing perceptions of a lack of disciplinary communication in higher education between the humanities/arts and the sciences, both social sciences and natural sciences, may be to encourage educators to construct pedagogies that extend beyond the traditional boundaries of their disciplines and that emphasize synthesis as both a methodology and an objective for student researchers. This essay models such a synthesis by drawing upon disciplines from within all three intellectual "cultures," as C.P. Snow referred to them, to examine the mystery of an unpublished work by English poet George Crabbe.


The 1995 publication of "The Voluntary Insane" (c. 1822), a 1,208-line poem by George Crabbe (1754-1832) discovered in a notebook among the papers of Crabbe confidante Sarah Hoare (1777-1856) in 1989, immediately introduces a mystery that might initially seem to be of interest only to a literary historian: why would a successful poet compose such a substantial work and never submit it for publication? The following essay addresses this puzzle by working from the premise that a diverse spectrum of disciplinary methodologies--consulted to address specific facets of the preliminary research inquiry--can form an investigative synthesis to reveal connections not otherwise accessible to the researcher who relies primarily or exclusively on a single methodology.

Modeling this synthesis as a research pedagogy is one way to prompt a rethinking of the lingering cultural tendencies to retain disciplinary boundaries in higher education that C.P. Snow (1964, 23-4) was lamenting nearly half a century ago. Specifically, Snow addressed a dichotomy between "literary intellectuals" (1964, 11)--a generic category conflating the disciplines of the arts and the humanities--and scientists, characterizing the former as maintaining that scientists, "brash and boastful," are "shallowly optimistic, unaware of man's condition" (1964, 12). The latter are depicted as thinking of colleagues in the arts and humanities as individuals "totally lacking in foresight, peculiarly unconcerned with their brother men," and anti-intellectually "anxious to restrict both art and thought to the existential moment" (1964, 12). When he returns to his 1959 lecture in 1963, Snow seems curiously unable or unwilling to articulate the social sciences as a "third culture," though he acknowledges some "social historians, as well as being on speaking terms with scientists, have felt bound to turn their attention to the literary intellectuals, or more exactly to some manifestations of the literary culture at its extreme" (1964, 67).

Recognizing the counterproductivity of characterizing methodological differences in such mutually alienating ways, I am proposing a synthesis that seeks to acknowledge the advantages of employing a diverse range of disciplinary approaches when examining any research question, toward achieving a more comprehensive cognitive understanding (that is, an understanding founded upon empirical knowledge) of that question, of its implications, and of its potential solutions. As Edward O. Wilson has noted, the only way to unite the "two cultures" is "to view the boundary between the scientific and the literary cultures not as a territorial line but as a broad and mostly unexplored terrain awaiting cooperative entry from both sides" (1998, 126). Hence I have selected six areas of inquiry to demonstrate the significantly distinctive nature of the insights that can be gleaned from each (including the social sciences), towards demonstrating how they may be synthesized into a rewardingly insightful, unified perspective.

Textual Exegesis: What can be determined by reading the source text(s) closely, both for literal and for metaphorical content? (1)

   'Tis Affectation to despise
   What has such visible Effect:
   Improbable and senseless Lies,
   We coolly and at once reject. … 
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