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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: September 2020

Chapter 5 - The ‘New Men’: ‘Intellectual Aristocracy’ or ‘Our Age’


Here lies the only member of the English middle classes who did not think himself a gentleman.

A. E. Housman

It is not financial assistance alone, however, which the nation should provide for the investigator. This is not even the most important stimulus that a nation can provide for him. Recognition and proper standing in the body politic are his due, and these should at last be forthcoming.

F. Gowland Hopkins

An ounce of heredity is worth a pound of merit.

Olive Lloyd-Baker

[S]cientific investigators are born not made, even by the magic of the PhD.

Joseph Needham

HOUSMAN'S desire not to be known as a gentleman and Gowland Hopkins's demand for recognition and proper respect raise the question of the social standing of those people who in the twentieth century occupied the cognitive niches and sites with which the present study is preoccupied. Olive Lloyd-Baker's and Joseph Needham's remarks are reminders that even deep into the twentieth century the very concept of merit was contested and the notion of hereditary talent still held its hold. An anxiety about status is reflected in a remark Cyril Hinshelwood, president of the Royal Society from 1955 to 1960, made to Isaiah Berlin: ‘there is no quicker way of making a first-class institution third-class than by appointing second-class men.’ Even in 1968 the report of Lord Fulton's on scientists’ place in the civil service struck a note of status anxiety:

Many scientists … get neither the full responsibilities and corresponding authority, nor the opportunities they might have. Too often they are organized in a separate hierarchy, while the policy and financial aspects of the work are reserved to a parallel group of ‘generalist’ administrators.

The historian who has studied these issues traces the discrepancy between the status of scientists and administrators in the civil service to the founding of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research during the Great War.

This chapter, therefore, is about the institutional and intellectual identities of British learned people from 1900 to 1950. It shows how far belonging and knowing were tied together and how far one's identity was tied to what one claims to know. It shows how far one's conception of oneself was connected to membership in various epistemic communities and how far these conceptions of identity rested upon the recognition and respect such communities provided.

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