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From the middle ages through the 1960s, undergraduates began their studies with the liberal arts: especially with grammar, rhetoric, and logic, that is, the thorough use of language in a scientific and logical way. In the nineteenth century, with the industrial revolution, there came a need for lots of highly specialized and educated people, whose main field was science and math. Since the knowledge in these fields now exploded, to the point that no one man could master more than a very narrow amount of these fields, it now became necessary to have long years of training in just these fields, in order to produce top-notch people.
This was potentially a problem, since for the first time, education for these people now threatened to become separated from the rest of the arts. Interestingly, it took some time for this to happen. Even at ‘engineering colleges’, which were increasingly set up from the 1860s, undergraduates were still admitted based on their proficiency in Latin and Greek through the 1930s. It was only after WWII, with the advent of the Russian threat, and the obvious need to have top scientists in order to win the Cold War, that society accelerated its specialization of Maths and Science students, and basically began to divest these students of almost any non mathematical influence.
So before we can judge if this was good or bad, we need to understand what purpose the liberal arts had served until that time. (more…)