Charles Homer Haskins and Medieval Science

Charles Homer Haskins and Medieval Science

By Edward Grant

Lecture delivered in 1984 at a session entitled “Medieval History in America: Charles Homer Haskins”

Abstract: Although George Orwell made the year 1984 infamous, the very antithesis of intellectual inquiry and achievement, historians, historians of science, and historians of medieval science in particular, have good reason to celebrate this much-abused year. It is of course the centennial of the American Historical Association of which the History of Science Society feels itself a vital part. It is also the 60th anniversary of the founding of the History of Science Society and the 60th anniversary of Haskins’s great volume on medieval science. One more significant anniversary must also be mentioned: it is the 100th anniversary of the birth of George Sarton, who was not only the founder of the journal Isis, and the moving force behind the formation of the History of Science Society, but a friend and admirer of Charles Haskins. In truth, although Sarton had been trained as a scientist, he was more a medievalist than anything else, as monumental three volume work, Introduction to the History of Science, attests. It was undoubtedly Sarton who recruited his Harvard colleague, Haskins, as a member of the organizing committee of the History of Science Society. Haskins’s publications in Isis probably derived from his relationship with Sarton, who, as we saw, was well aware of the importance and quality of Haskins’ research on the translation and transmission of medieval science. Together these two Harvard medievalists played a vital role in establishing the History of Science Society and in making research in medieval science an integral and respectable part of research in the history of science. It is appropriate and just, therefore, to number Charles Homer Haskins among that small group of medievalists who, during the first quarter of this century, effectively repudiated the idea, current since the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century, that the expression “medieval science” was a contradiction in terms.

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