Monthly Archives: November 2008

Banishing the “Hick” Factor

Discussing the history of land-grant universities with Carolyn Whatley yesterday, I was reminded of a quote I mined recently from Peter Watson’s Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, From Fire to Freud. He pointed out in one chapter how unfavorably science and practical knowledge in general were viewed in Germany — where the humanities were almost universally regarded as sole hallmarks of high learning and culture — even while they were held in universally high regard in America and the other English-speaking countries.


Whereas in a country like England, or America, the sciences and the arts were, to a much greater extent, seen as two sides of the same coin, jointly forming the intellectual elite, this was much less true in nineteenth-century Germany. A good example is Max Planck, the physicist who (in 1900) discovered the quantum, the idea that all energy comes in very small packets, or quanta. Planck came from a very religious, somewhat academic family, and was himself an excellent pianist. Despite the fact that his discovery of the quantum rates as one of the most important scientific discoveries of all time, in Planck’s own family the humanities were considered a superior form of knowledge to science. His cousin, the historian Max Lenz, would jokingly pun that scientists (Naturforsher) were in reality foresters (Naturforster) – or, as he would say, hicks.

This raises an interesting question: What role have land-grant universities and Cooperative Extenison played in elevating science and the practical arts to the same plane as the humanities?