George Alfred Leon Sarton (/ˈsɑːrtən/; 31 August 1884 – 22 March 1956), was a Belgian-born American chemist and historian. He is considered the founder of the discipline of the history of science. He has a significant importance in the history of science and his most influential work was the Introduction to the History of Science, which consists of three volumes and 4,296 pages. Sarton ultimately aimed to achieve an integrated philosophy of science that provided a connection between the sciences and the humanities, which he referred to as "the new humanism".[1] He gives his name to the George Sarton Medal.

George Alfred Leon Sarton
George Sarton 1941a.jpg
George Sarton in 1941
Born(1884-08-31)August 31, 1884
DiedMarch 22, 1956(1956-03-22) (aged 71)
Alma materUniversity of Ghent
Known forIntroduction to the History of Science
Spouse(s)Mabel Eleanor Elwes
ChildrenMay Sarton
Scientific career
FieldsHistory of science
InstitutionsCarnegie Institution of Washington
Harvard University
Thesis'Les principes de méchanique de Newton' (1911)

Sarton's life and workEdit

George Alfred Leon Sarton was born in Ghent, Belgium on August 31, 1884. His parents were Alfred Sarton and Léonie Van Halmé. His mother died when he was less than a year old.[1] Eugene graduated from the University of Ghent in 1906 and two years later won a gold medal for one of his papers on chemistry. He received his PhD in mathematical physics at the University of Ghent in 1911 for a thesis on Newton's mechanics.[2] First moving to England, he emigrated to the United States due to the First World War, and worked there the rest of his life, researching and writing about the history of science.

In 1911, he married Mabel Eleanor Elwes, an English artist. Their daughter Eleanore Marie (known as May) was born the following year in 1912. Although he and his family emigrated to England after World War I broke out, they immigrated to the United States in 1915, where they would live for the rest of their lives. He worked for the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace and lectured at Harvard University, 1916–18.[3] At Harvard, he became a lecturer in 1920, and a professor of the history of science from 1940 until his retirement in 1951. He was also a research associate of the Carnegie Institution of Washington from 1919 until 1948.

Sarton intended to complete an exhaustive nine-volume history of science; during the preparation of the second volume, he learned Arabic and traveled around the Middle East for part of his research, inspecting original manuscripts of Islamic scientists. By the time of his death, he had completed only the first three volumes: I. From Homer to Omar Khayyam; II. From Rabbi Ben Ezra to Roger Bacon, pt. 1–2; and III. Science and learning in the fourteenth-century, pt. 1–2. Sarton had been inspired for his project by his study of Leonardo da Vinci, but he had not reached this period in history before dying.

After his death (March 22, 1956, Cambridge, Massachusetts), a representative selection of his papers was edited by Dorothy Stimson. It was published by Harvard University Press in 1962.[4]

History of Science SocietyEdit

In honor of Sarton's achievements, the History of Science Society created the award known as the George Sarton Medal. It is the most prestigious award of the History of Science Society. It has been awarded annually since 1955 to an outstanding historian of science selected from the international scholarly community. The medal honors a scholar for lifetime scholarly achievement. Sarton was the founder of this society and of its journals: Isis and Osiris, which publish articles on science and culture.

Selected publicationsEdit


  • 1924: "The New Humanism". Isis. 6 (1): 9–42. doi:10.1086/358203. JSTOR 223969.
  • 1927–48: Introduction to the History of Science (3 v. in 5), Carnegie Institution of Washington Publication # 376, Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, Co.
  • 1951: "The Incubation of Western Culture in the Middle East: a George C. Keiser Foundation Lecture", March 29, 1950, Washington, D.C.


  • 1927: Introduction to the History of Science (I. From Homer to Omar Khayyam)
  • 1931: Introduction to the History of Science (II. From Rabbi Ben Ezra to Roger Bacon, pt. 1-2)
  • 1936: The Study of the History of Mathematics & The Study of the History of Science, 1954 Dover reprint from Internet Archive
  • 1947/8: Introduction to the Hisory of Science (III. Science and learning in the fourteenth-century, pt. 1–2, 1947–48). Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins.
  • 1952: A History of Science. Ancient science through the Golden Age of Greece, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press
  • 1959: A History of Science. Hellenistic science and culture in the last three centuries B.C., Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press
  • 1965: The Study of the History of Science (German: Das Studium der Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften, Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann


  1. ^ a b Eugene Garfield (1985) Essays of an Information Scientist, Current Contents 8: 241 - 247, "George Sarton: The Father of the History of Science. Part 1. Sarton's Early Life in Belgium"
  2. ^ George Sarton's European Roots from University of Ghent
  3. ^ Sarton, G. (1952). A Guide to the History of Science. Waltham, MA: Chronica Botanica
  4. ^ Review: Sarton on the History of Science (edited by Dorothy Stimson) at Nature

External linksEdit