Two hundred years ago, it was still possible for one person to be a leader in several different fields of inquiry. Today that is no longer the case. So is there a role in today's world for the polymath -- someone who knows a lot about a lot of things? From a report: Bobby Seagull's fist-pumping and natty dressing, and Eric Monkman's furrowed brow, flashing teeth, contorted facial expressions and vocal delivery -- like a fog horn with a hangover -- made these two young men the stars of the last University Challenge competition. [...] They're still recognised in the street. "People often ask me, do you intimidate people with your knowledge," says Monkman. "But the opposite is the case. I have wide knowledge but no deep expertise. I am intimidated by experts." Seagull, like Monkman, feels an intense pressure to specialise. They regard themselves as Jacks-of-all-Trades, without being master of one. "When I was young what I really wanted to do was know a lot about a lot," says Monkman. "Now I feel that if I want to make a novel contribution to society I need to know a great deal about one tiny thing." The belief that researchers need to specialise goes back at least two centuries. From the beginning of the 19th Century, research has primarily been the preserve of universities. Ever since, says Stefan Collini, Professor of Intellectual History and English Literature at Cambridge University, researchers have labels attached to them. "They're professor of this or that, and you get a much more self-conscious sense of the institutional divides between domains of knowledge."
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