Lynn Thorndike

Lynn Thorndike

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Lynn Thorndike was an American historian of medieval science and alchemy
Alchemy is an influential philosophical tradition whose early practitioners’ claims to profound powers were known from antiquity. The defining objectives of alchemy are varied; these include the creation of the fabled philosopher's stone possessing powers including the capability of turning base...

. He was the younger brother of Ashley Horace Thorndike
Ashley Horace Thorndike
Ashley Horace Thorndike was an American educator and expert on William Shakespeare.He taught at Columbia University and wrote several notable textbooks, including Facts about Shakespeare, Tragedy, and English Comedy. He died of a heart attack in Manhattan as he was walking home from a club dinner...


Thorndike studied at Wesleyan University
Wesleyan University
Wesleyan University is a private liberal arts college founded in 1831 and located in Middletown, Connecticut. According to the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Wesleyan is the only Baccalaureate College in the nation that emphasizes undergraduate instruction in the arts and...

, Middletown, Connecticut (Bachelor of Arts, 1902), and then medieval history at Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

 (Master of Arts 1903, Doctorate 1905). Thorndike's doctoral dissertation (1905) was about "The Place of Magic in the Intellectual History of Europe", which he went on to link with the historical development of experimental science. He began teaching medieval history at Northwestern University
Northwestern University
Northwestern University is a private research university in Evanston and Chicago, Illinois, USA. Northwestern has eleven undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools offering 124 undergraduate degrees and 145 graduate and professional degrees....

 in 1907. He moved to Western Reserve University in 1909 and stayed there until 1924. Columbia University lured him away in fall 1924 and he taught there until he retired from teaching in 1950. Thorndike continued to publish for an additional ten years and in 1957 received the Sarton Medal
George Sarton Medal
The George Sarton Medal is the most prestigious award given by the History of Science Society. It has been awarded annually since 1955. It is awarded to an historian of science from the international community who became distinguished for "a lifetime of scholarly achievement" in the field...

 from the History of Science Society. He also served as president of the American Historical Association
American Historical Association
The American Historical Association is the oldest and largest society of historians and professors of history in the United States. Founded in 1884, the association promotes historical studies, the teaching of history, and the preservation of and access to historical materials...


Counter to Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt
Jacob Burckhardt
Carl Jacob Christoph Burckhardt was a historian of art and culture, and an influential figure in the historiography of each field. He is known as one of the major progenitors of cultural history, albeit in a form very different from how cultural history is conceived and studied in academia today...

 who argued that the Italian Renaissance
Italian Renaissance
The Italian Renaissance began the opening phase of the Renaissance, a period of great cultural change and achievement in Europe that spanned the period from the end of the 13th century to about 1600, marking the transition between Medieval and Early Modern Europe...

 was a separate phase, Thorndike believed that most of the political, social, moral and religious phenomena which are commonly defined as Renaissance seemed to be almost equally characteristic of Italy at any time from the twelfth to the eighteenth centuries.

Among his books on magic
Magic (paranormal)
Magic is the claimed art of manipulating aspects of reality either by supernatural means or through knowledge of occult laws unknown to science. It is in contrast to science, in that science does not accept anything not subject to either direct or indirect observation, and subject to logical...

 and science are: A History of Magic and Experimental Science (8 vol., 1923–58), spanning the period from early Christianity through early modern Europe to the end of the 17th century; and Science and Thought in the Fifteenth Century (1929). Thorndike also wrote The History of Medieval Europe (1917, 3d ed. 1949) and translated the medieval astronomical textbook De sphaera mundi
De sphaera mundi
De sphaera mundi is a medieval introduction to the basic elements of astronomy written by Johannes de Sacrobosco c. 1230...

of Johannes de Sacrobosco
Johannes de Sacrobosco
Johannes de Sacrobosco or Sacro Bosco was a scholar, monk, and astronomer who taught at the University of Paris and wrote the authoritative mediaeval astronomy text Tractatus de Sphaera.-Origins:Although described as English, his birthplace is unknown because Sacrobosco is...



  • The Place of magic in the intellectual history of Europe, 1905 (Ph.D. Dissertation, Columbia University)
  • The True Roger Bacon 1916
  • History of medieval Europe, 1917
  • Medieval Europe, its development & civilization, 1920
  • Galen: the man and his times 1922
  • Peter of Abano: a medieval scientist 1923
  • History of magic and experimental science. 1923-1958 in 8 volumes. (e.g. Volume II)
  • Dates in intellectual history: the fourteenth century. 1945
  • Check-list of rotographs in the history of natural and occult science 1934
  • Traditional medieval tracts concerning engraved astrological images. 1947
  • Sphere of Sacrobosco and its commentators. 1949
  • Outline of medieval and modern history 1929
  • Science and thought in the fifteenth century; studies in the history of medicine and surgery, natural and mathematical science, philosophy, and politics. 1963
  • Michael Scot. 1965
  • University Records and Life in the Middle Ages, New York: Columbia University Press, 1944