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The Two Cultures Controversy


  • Page extent: 308 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.63 kg


 (ISBN-13: 9780521892049)

Ever since the scientist-turned-novelist C. P. Snow clashed with literary critic F. R. Leavis in the early 1960s, it has been a commonplace to lament that intellectual life is divided between 'two cultures', the arts and sciences. Yet why did a topic that had long been discussed inspire such ferocious controversy at this particular moment? This book answers that question by recasting this dispute as an ideological conflict between competing visions of Britain's past, present, and future. It then connects the controversy to simultaneous arguments about the mission of the university, the methodology of social history, the reasons for 'national decline', and the fate of the former empire. By excavating the political stakes of the 'two cultures' controversy, this book explains the workings of cultural politics during the 1960s more generally, while also revising the meaning of a term that continues to be evoked to this day.

• Offers original interpretations of the 'two cultures' controversy and the historical tradition discussing the arts and sciences • Extensive research in archival collections, several of which have only recently become accessible to scholars • Provides a rich and engaging portrait of postwar British cultural and intellectual life


Introduction; 1. C. P. Snow and the technocratic liberalism; 2. F. R. Leavis and the radical liberalism; 3. A tale of two colleges; 4. The making of English social history; 5. The rise of national 'decline'; 6. Post-colonial developments; 7. The eclipse of the meritocratic moment; Conclusion.

Prize Winner

Royal Historical Society Whitfield Prize 2009 - Runner-up


Review of the hardback: 'The Two Cultures Controversy provides a full and persuasive account of Snow's public roles during his years of fame and a thoughtful exploration of the ramifications of the debate surrounding his celebrated lecture. On these grounds, it will be of considerable value to cultural, educational and political historians of the period, as well as of interest to a wider readership curious about the origins and continuing significance of a famous phrase.' Stefan Collini, Twentieth Century British History

Review of the hardback: 'This is an exceptionally thoughtful and thought-provoking work from which (truly) every modern British historian will learn something fresh and useful.' Peter Mandler, H-Net

Review of the hardback: 'An excellent piece of work … Ortolano gives us [a] widescreen, wrap-around cultural history of postwar Britain.' John Toye, Economic History Review

Review of the hardback: 'Guy Ortolano has provided us with a detailed and insightful study … [He] shows … how we can use the Two Cultures to understand the wider ideological and social currents to which it was intimately related: liberalism, declinism, meritocracy, and technocracy.' Waqar Zaidi, Journal of British Studies

Review of the hardback: 'As I read further and further into this text, I could ever more readily hear and feel, even smell, a Britain now largely gone. … Ortolano has captured an important lost moment - even a last moment - in the rise and fall of a Britain dominated by a narrow educational and social ruling stratum.' David Coates, American Historical Review

Review of the hardback: '… a very important work on a key topic of twentieth-century British history. … [Ortolano] has given an excellent foundation on which further studies can be based.' British Journal for the History of Science

Review of the hardback: 'Ortolano has brought [Snow and Leavis] splendidly back to life … At the same time, thoroughly and imaginatively discussed here, the debate and its ramifications raise issues important for Britain and elsewhere for the second half of the 20th century and beyond. Highly recommended.' Peter Stansky, Choice

Review of the hardback: 'Ortolano provides a detailed and illuminating history of the controversy … This is a highly readable and informative study.' Mary Jo Nye, Isis

Review of the hardback: 'In this deeply researched and closely argued book, Guy Ortolano … helps explain why what began as a rather modest Cambridge lecture became the focus of some of the sharpest and most significant debates of the postwar era.' Bruce J. Hunt, British Scholar

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