Lynn Thorndike

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Lynn Thorndike (born 24 July 1882, in Lynn, Massachusetts, USA; died 28 December 1965, at Columbia University Club, New York City) was an American historian of medieval science and alchemy.[1][2] He was the younger brother of Ashley Horace Thorndike and Edward Lee Thorndike.[3]

Education and teaching career[edit]

Thorndike studied at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut (Bachelor of Arts, 1902), and then medieval history at Columbia University (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.[1]

He began teaching medieval history at Northwestern University 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.

Writing career[edit]

After retiring from teaching, Thorndike continued to publish for an additional ten years and in 1957 received the Sarton Medal from the History of Science Society. He served as the president there in 1929 and also served as president of the American Historical Association.

Counter to Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt who argued that the Italian Renaissance 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.[4][clarification needed]

Among his books on magic and science are: A History of Magic and Experimental Science (8 vol., 1923–58),[5] spanning the period from early Christianity through early modern Europe to the end of the 17th century.[6] In that book, he commented about the best way to find historical truth:[7]

Some investigators of manuscripts, like certain anthropologists and archeologists, seem to think that they attain a higher degree of scholarship, if they propound some novel and improbable theory and adduce a certain amount of evidence for it. This is hardly the direct or rapid method of attaining historical truth.

Another book by Thorndike about magic and science is 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 of Johannes de Sacrobosco.



  • Thorndike, Lynn (1908-01). "The Attitude of Origen and Augustine Toward Magic". The Monist 18 (1): 46–66. ISSN 0026-9662. JSTOR 27900085. 
  • Thorndike, Lynn (1913-10). "A Roman Astrologer as a Historical Source: Julius Firmicus Maternus". Classical Philology 8 (4): 415–435. ISSN 0009-837X. JSTOR 262531. 
  • Thorndike, Lynn (1915-12-03). "Roger Bacon and Gunpowder". Science 42 (1092): 799–800. ISSN 0036-8075. JSTOR 1639066. 
  • Thorndike, Lynn (1915-01). "Some medieval conceptions of magic". The Monist 25 (1): 107–139. ISSN 0026-9662. JSTOR 27900521. 
  • Thorndike, Lynn (1922-01). "Galen: The Man and His Times". The Scientific Monthly 14 (1): 83–93. ISSN 0096-3771. JSTOR 6569. 
  • Thorndike, Lynn (1926-09-01). "Lippus Brandolinus de Comparatione Reipublicate et Regni: An Unpublished Treatise of the Late Fifteenth Century in Comparative Political Science". Political Science Quarterly 41 (3): 413–435. doi:10.2307/2142129. ISSN 0032-3195. JSTOR 2142129. 
  • Thorndike, Lynn (1928-04-01). "A Historical Sketch of the Relationship between History and Science". The Scientific Monthly 26 (4): 342–345. doi:10.2307/8129. ISSN 0096-3771. JSTOR 8129. 
  • Thorndike, Lynn (1933-04-01). "Notes on Some Latin Manuscripts at Wolfenbuttel in Natural Science, Medicine, Alchemy, and Astrology". Speculum 8 (2): 175–179. doi:10.2307/2846746. ISSN 0038-7134. JSTOR 2846746. 
  • Thorndike, Lynn (1936-01-01). "Coelestinus's Summary of Nicolas Oresme on Marvels: A Fifteenth Century Work Printed in the Sixteenth Century". Osiris 1: 629–635. doi:10.2307/301628. ISSN 0369-7827. JSTOR 301628. 
  • Thorndike, Lynn (1937-03-01). "Date of the Translation by Ermengaud Blasius of the Work on the Quadrant by Profatius Judaeus". Isis 26 (2): 306–309. doi:10.2307/224914. ISSN 0021-1753. JSTOR 224914. 
  • Thorndike, Lynn (1938-11-01). "A Study in the Analysis of Complex Scientific Manuscripts Sloane 3457: An Important Alchemical Manuscript". Isis 29 (2): 377–392. doi:10.2307/225485. ISSN 0021-1753. JSTOR 225485. 
  • Thorndike, Lynn (1946-04-01). "Robertus Anglicus and the Introduction of Demons and Magic into Commentaries upon the Sphere of Sacrobosco". Speculum 21 (2): 241–243. doi:10.2307/2851323. ISSN 0038-7134. JSTOR 2851323. 
  • Thorndike, Lynn (1950-10-01). "The Date of Aegidius de Tebaldis' Translation of Haly Abenragel, "De Iudiciis Astrologiae"". The Modern Language Review 45 (4): 517. doi:10.2307/3718963. ISSN 0026-7937. JSTOR 3718963. 
  • Thorndike, Lynn (1951-10-01). "Newness and Craving for Novelty in Seventeenth-Century Science and Medicine". Journal of the History of Ideas 12 (4): 584–598. doi:10.2307/2707487. ISSN 0022-5037. JSTOR 2707487. 
  • Thorndike, Lynn (1955-01-01). "Censorship by the Sorbonne of Science and Superstition in the First Half of the Seventeenth Century". Journal of the History of Ideas 16 (1): 119–125. doi:10.2307/2707531. ISSN 0022-5037. JSTOR 2707531. 
  • Thorndike, Lynn (1955-07-01). "Further Consideration of the Experimenta, Speculum Astronomiae, and De Secretis Mulierum Ascribed to Albertus Magnus". Speculum 30 (3): 413–443. doi:10.2307/2848079. ISSN 0038-7134. JSTOR 2848079. 
  • Thorndike, Lynn (1956-12-01). "Notes upon Some Medieval Latin Astronomical, Astrological and Mathematical Manuscripts at the Vatican: Part I". Isis 47 (4): 391–404. doi:10.2307/226632. ISSN 0021-1753. JSTOR 226632. 
  • Thorndike, Lynn (1957-01-01). "Notes on Some Astronomical, Astrological and Mathematical Manuscripts of the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris". Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 20 (1/2): 112–172. doi:10.2307/750154. ISSN 0075-4390. JSTOR 750154. 
  • Thorndike, Lynn (1958-03-01). "Notes upon Some Medieval Latin Astronomical, Astrological and Mathematical Manuscripts at the Vatican: Part II". Isis 49 (1): 34–49. doi:10.2307/226602. ISSN 0021-1753. JSTOR 226602. 
  • Thorndike, Lynn (1959-01-01). "Notes on Some Less Familiar British Astronomical and Astrological Manuscripts". Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 22 (1/2): 157–171. doi:10.2307/750564. ISSN 0075-4390. JSTOR 750564. 
  • Thorndike, Lynn (1959-03-01). "Notes upon Some Medieval Astronomical, Astrological and Mathematical Manuscripts at Florence, Milan, Bologna and Venice". Isis 50 (1): 33–50. doi:10.2307/226537. ISSN 0021-1753. JSTOR 226537. 
  • Thorndike, Lynn (1960-04-19). "Some Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts on Physics". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 104 (2): 188–201. doi:10.2307/985658. ISSN 0003-049X. JSTOR 985658. 
  • Thorndike, Lynn; Peter of Abano (1942-06-01). "Translations of Works of Galen from the Greek by Peter of Abano". Isis 33 (6): 649–653. doi:10.2307/330710. ISSN 0021-1753. JSTOR 330710. 


  • "Measuring Euripides," Issued by The College for Women Section, Chapter Alpha of Ohio, Phi Beta Kappa, 1916.
  • "Whatever Was, Was Right," Presidential Address Read at the Annual Dinner of the American Historical Association, Mayflower Hotel, Washington, D. C., December 29, 1955


  1. ^ a b Pearl Kibre, "Lynn Thorndike", Osiris, vol.11 (1954), pp.4-22.
  2. ^ Marshall Clagett, "Eloge: Lynn Thorndike (1882-1965)", Isis, vol.57(1) (Spring, 1966), pp.85-89.
  3. ^ Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning, p. 3320 (Springer 2012).
  4. ^ Lynn Thorndike, “Renaissance or Prenaissance.” Journal of the History of Ideas 4, (1943), 69.
  5. ^ As shown in an online book search.
  6. ^ Part of Volume I, originally printed as A History of Magic and Experimental Science during the first thirteen centuries of our era: volume I (of two volumes) (1923), is also online in 'previewable' part, containing "Book III. The early middle ages", pages 549-835 with indexes from the original Volume I. (This part is now described, in online metadata, as "volume 2 of 14".)
  7. ^ Thorndike, Lynn. A History of Magic and Experimental Science: Fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, pp. 253-254 (Columbia University Press, 1934).

Further reading[edit]

  • Boyer, Carl B. & Boyer, Marjorie N. "Lynn Thorndike (1882-1965)," Technology and Culture, Vol. 7, No. 3, Summer, 1966.

External links[edit]