The C. P. Snow Lecture Series, the longest-running lecture series at the College, began in the School of Humanities and Sciences more than 50 years ago as a means of bridging the gap between the sciences and the humanities. The series was named after Sir Charles Percy Snow, a man who truly embodied the mission of the series for his work as an internationally renowned scientist, author, lecturer, and past member of the British cabinet.
In fact, it was Snow’s essays on the "two cultures" that inspired Professor Robert Pasternack to begin the lecture series. Pasternak, chairman of the speaker series committee and member of the chemistry department, wrote to Lord Snow in 1964 and requested permission to use his name. Snow responded, "I am deeply touched by what you say and shall be honored to have your series of talks called the C. P. Snow Lecture Series." The series was born in 1964, the same year that the science building (now Williams Hall) was opened on the College's new South Hill campus.
G. Ferris Cronkhite, professor of English and longtime member of the C. P. Snow committee, believed in the series' mission so much that he endowed it, leaving a substantial bequest to ensure that the series would continue. Though the topics and speakers are quite diverse, the lectures have always sought to stimulate interdisciplinary dialogue and thought.
According to Peter Melcher, associate professor of biology and former chair of the C. P. Snow committee (2005-8), much of the series' success can be attributed to this: "The founders and the faculty who initiated this series had brilliant foresight, and I'm so glad the school ensured its perpetuity. Scientists need to learn about the arts and the humanities -- science doesn't take place in a vacuum. And art, music, poetry, the humanities -- they're all so intertwined with scientific innovations. On all fronts, understanding is greater when there is an open, interdisciplinary exchange of information."
For more information on the history of this series, see the KnowLedges article from the Fall 2007 edition.