Sarton, George Alfred Léon

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(b. Ghent, Belgium, 31 August 1884; d. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 22 March 1956)

history of science.

Sarton was the only child of Alfred Sarton, a chief engineer and director of the Belgian state Railways. His mother, Léonie Van Halmé, died when he was a few months old. An isolated child, surrounded by servants, George had a prosperous but lonely upbringing.

Secure in a setting as bourgeois as a Balzac novel. Sarton followed a course of schooling that normally led to the study of philosophy at the University of Ghent. But he soon abandoned philosophy in disgust for the natural sciences. He studied chemistry (for which he won a gold medal), crystallography, and then mathematics. His 1911 D. Sc. dissertation on “Les principes de la mécanique de Newton” provided an early indication of the direction his interests were taking under the philosophical influence of Comte. Duhem, and Tannery. A visit to London at this time led to the systematic exploration of the works of Wells. Shaw, and the Fabins, whose ideas Sarton experienced as a refreshing contrast to the doctrinaire Marxism that he and his friends youthfully espoused. Socialism rather than communism thus came to seem the necessary and inevitable prelude to the final achievement of benevolent anarchism.

Sarton graduated from the university in 1911. In May of the same year he married Eleanor Mabel Elwes of London, who had experienced a similar lonely childhood, after being boarded out when her parents (her father was a civil and mining engineer) traveled abroad. Among other similarities in their backgrounds, her father was a Fabin and a Mason. The small private income Sarton enjoyed was not enough to sustain a family, while all the assets of his wife’s father had been lost in speculative mining stocks. Sarton thus found it necessary to seek employment. A 1910 note in his diary had already indicated his intention–before trying to get a post at the university–to “become the pupil, if I prove worthy, of Henri Poincaré: the most intelligent man of our time”. He continued, in a passage both prophetic and revealing:

It is almost certain that I shall devote a great part of my life to the study of “natural philosophy”. There is great work to be accomplished in that direction. And–from that point of view–living history, the passionate history of the physical and mathematical sciences is still to be written. Isn’t that really what history is, the evolution of human greatness, as well as its weakness?

This liberal and characteristically enlightened faith was to guide most of the remaining forty-six years of his life. The transition from a dawning conviction of the importance of a passionate history of the physical sciences to the systematic work of equipping a new discipline with tools and standards, and more especially the transition to paid employment in an as-yet-nonexistent profession, was to prove slow and complex.

Using the proceeds from the sale of his deceased father’s wine cellar (the sale itself was a typically outrageous act of the confident and iconoclastic young man). Sarton bought a pleasant country house in Wondelgem, near Ghent. Here his only surviving child, May Sarton, was born in May 1912. At about this time Sarton made the bold decision to found Isis, his “Revue consacrée á l’histoire de la science”. Displaying the single-minded and disinterested opportunism that marks the actions of a man wholly convinced of his mission, he recruited a distinguished editorial board. By September 1912 he had secured the patronage of his idol Poincaré and Arrhenius, Durkheim, Health, Jacques Loeb, Ostwald, Ramsay, and David Eugene Smith. Sarton’s methodical placing of these names in categories shows he was already convinced that the history of science subsumed under its wider heading the histories of mathematics, technology, chemistry, medicine, biology, physics, and astronomy and required besides the expert advice of scientists, historians, sociologists, and historians of philosophy. The methodical division of his field also displays Sarton’s passion for tidiness and classificatory order. This passion was to inform all his efforts and may in part explain his attraction to the work of Comte, just as it lay behind his particular admiration for Linnaeus among men of science.

The decision to found a journal was crucial. In retrospect we can see how Isis provided Sarton with the first of the institutional tools he needed, if a long-continued but still incoherent area of inquiry was to be transformed under his leadership into an articulated discipline, with agreed critical standards and a definitive cognitive identity. Sarton himself conceived of Isis as having far wider aims. His overarching vision and evangelical belief were announced to the world in a series of explanatory passages in the early numbers of the journal. As he pointed out, it was not the chosen domain of activity which made Isis unique, but the fact that no other journal would systematically and holistically connect methodological, sociological, and philosophical perspectives with the purely historical and thus allow historical inquiry to “attain its full significance”.

Sarton always insisted that the history of science was by nature an encyclopedic discipline, that is, a discipline devoted to summation, comparison, and synthesis. Indeed his own interest in the history of science was “dominated ... by a philosophical conception”. As he wrote to a correspondent in 1927, “I am anxious to prove inductively the unity of knowledge and the unity of mankind”. The immensity of the task did not daunt him. Rather it provided the rationale for a lifetime pursuit of difficult linguistic skills and wide-ranging historical and scientific knowledge. He eventually mastered fourteen languages.

Sarton was above all a man of the nineteenth century. He was culturally oriented toward universal history and the progressivist philosophies that found their basis in positive science and their end in the imminent and universal brotherhood of man. Yet in his thinking he was indebted to Condorcet as well as to Comte. The lines of English thought that led from Spencer to the Webbs and Shaw were also important in defining his developed view of the goals to be served by that new synthesis of knowledge to which the history of science was the essential key. High theory and a rigorous consistency were less urgent to him that sustained, appropriate action. Thus throughout his life, Sarton enjoyed the role of propagandist. His evangelizing on behalf of his chosen subject inevitably calls to mind the way Francis Bacon served as apostle for the field of science itself. And, like Bacon, Sarton had his most enduring impact in this vital, although little-acknowledged capacity. Other roles were more nearly central to his mission. With a discipline to be created, a world to be won, the provision of tools, techniques, methodologies, and intellectual orientations lay uppermost in his mind and at the forefront of his actions. A cognitive identity for his new discipline was the primary goal, and his own pattern of work was the self-exemplifying model of appropriate scholarship. Sarton was also well aware of the real, if less immediate, need for professional as well as cognitive identity, without which his field of learning could never be secure let alone accepted as crucial to man’s intellectual quest. Appropriate exhortations poured from his pen. The need for career positions and institutes for the history of science were matters to which he often returned. Once again, Sarton provided the self-exemplifying models. He was to “invent” for himself both a research institute and a full-time career, when the discipline barely possessed a cognitive, let alone a professional identity.

While he would on occasion write in an avowedly pragmatic and relativist vein, it was the heritage from positivism, progressivism, and utopian socialism that more often controlled Sarton’s argument and guided his actions. He would repeatedly present a “theorem on the history of science”, which ran as follows:

Definition. Science is systematized positive knowledge, or what has been taken as such at different ages and in different places. Theorem. The acquisition and systematization of positive knowledge are the only human activities which are truly cumulative and progressive. Corollary. The history of science is the only history to which can illustrate the progress of mankind.

The scholar who until his last years largely devoted himself to critical bibliography could also say that “The quest for truth and beauty is indeed man’s glory. This is certainly the highest moral certainty which history allows.... History itself is of no concern to us... . To build up [the] future, to make it beautiful [is rather the aim]”. Whatever the contradictions and gaps between words and deeds, the fundamental belief was the one expressed in some words from the first volume of his monumental Introduction to the discipline. “The history of science is the history of mankind’s unity, of its sublime purpose, of its gradual redemption”.

In these statements we may perceive some reasons behind a paradox in Sarton’s career. From one perspective his major achievement was that of the discipline builder: providing a key journal; establishing an identity for a field; encouraging the formation of a discipline-based learned society with its potential for sanction and reward (the History of Science Society, 1924); locating and mobilizing scarce resources of men and money in pursuit of crucial scholarly objectives; and seeking to furnish reference works, general surveys, advanced monographs, and teaching manuals. To create the necessary infrastructure for a coherent discipline was a task that demanded a lifetime of devotion.

To Sarton himself such work was only preliminary and minor compared with achieving the “new humanism”, the holistic and all-embracing synthesis which would be based on a just appreciation of science in history. The yearning for this synthesis made his contributions to his new subject less than complete. Partly because his vision was so catholic, he could not communicate to others that sense of either the problematics or the conceptual and analytic schema necessary if his chosen field were to become a coherent, fully articulated discipline. The paradox is acute. Ambitious for the total vision, it is rather for bibliography, documentation, and the establishment of historical standards and facts that Sarton is most readily remembered.

In the early days of Isis all these matters, of course, lay in an unknown and surely unforeseen future. But the events that would crack, erode, and finally destroy the progressive, bourgeois confidence of which Sarton was such a supreme exemplar were already under way. The German invasion of Belgium in August 1914 immediately and dramatically rendered Sarton’s private world precarious. Abandoning Wondelgem, his library, and his notes (which he buried in the garden), he fled to London with his family. For the next four years he lived a life of great uncertainty and occasional despair as he sought to find a context in which to pursue his ideals, and his as yet uninvented discipline. Prospects of an English position proved deceptive. Early in 1915 Sarton sailed to the United States, temporarily leaving his family behind. His hopes lay with the greater range and diversity of American institutions, with the progressive spirit, and with Robert S. Woodward.

Woodward was the second president and successful organizer of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. He was also a man with a personal interest in the history of science, and Sarton was in touch with him even before the forced retreat from Belgium. Woodward was initially unsympathetic but slowly softened. The universities in the united States provided sustenance both more immediate and more limited. When Sarton landed, the history of science was actually well established as an activity, although far from being an intellectual discipline and almost unthought of as a profession. A 1915 review article in Science makes this plain. It details no fewer than 162 courses in the history of particular sciences as well as fourteen general courses in the history of science, spread among 113 institutions.

Through the help of friends and acquaintances, Sarton managed to arrange a frenetic but sustaining round of guest lectures, seminars, and temporary appointments in American universities. One of those most involved in the promotion of the history of science as a new area of pedagogy was L. J. Henderson, a polymathic biological chemist and junior but influential member of the Harvard faculty. Since 1911 Henderson had himself been teaching at Harvard a regular course on the history of science. He was no doubt early aware of Sarton’s program, of which he was to become such a willing supporter. As a member of the inner circle, he was in a position to advance the institutionalization of the field at Harvard and in the process to have a profound effect on Sarton’ life. By 3 May 1916 Henderson was able to write his new friend with the glad news that “from several different sources we have been able to put together $2,000 for your first year [at Harvard]. The second year is not fully arranged, but I have not much doubt that we shall be successful”. On the strength of this encouraging letter, Sarton understandably wrote Woodward the optimistic interpretation that “I have been appointed lecturer on the history of science at Harvard University for two years. A new chair has been endowed for the purpose”. As it turned out, Sarton was first featured as “lecturer in philosophy” with the bulk of his teaching being listed under the auspices of the department of philosophy. Partly because of the financial problems Harvard faced as a result of the entry of the United States into World War I (but perhaps also partly because his courses did not draw many students), his two-year appointment was not extended.

At this juncture, Woodward’s informed aid was to prove decisive. In response to Sarton’s renewed appeals and with the help of Andrew Dickson White, historian of the warfare between science and theology and a trustee of the Carnegie Institution, an appointment was created as research associate in the history of science, initially for two years from 1 July 1918.

Thus began an association with the Carnegie Institution that endured throughout Sarton’s professional life. Although employed on a full-time basis from Washington, he remained in Cambridge, pleading the uncertainty of war and the great value of a study in the then-new Widener Library. When the end of his Harvard appointment raised the prospect of eviction from Widener, Woodward’s solicited intervention proved crucial in allowing him to remain unmolested. The unexpected end of the war allowed Sarton to plan an expedition to Wondelgem to recover his library and notes in the summer of 1919. Following this journey he was supposed to settle in Washington. Instead he quickly returned to Cambridge. There, through the good offices of Henderson, he once more secured a room in Widener Library on the basis of an annual unpaid appointment at Harvard as lecturer in the history of science.

Secure in one of the world’s great libraries, with his salary guaranteed by Carnegie, and with no specific duties other than those he fashioned for himself, Sarton was at last free to develop his own mission and his own life-style. It was against this background that the idea of an Introduction to the History of Science gradually matured. Aside from Isis, Sarton’s immediate plans were often vague and shifting during the precarious years between 1912 and 1920. In 1915 he expressed the intention to sail for China and Japan. By 1918, when he had been at Harvard twenty months, his interests had somewhat changes. In reply to Woodward’s request for specific information on the work he was undertaking. Sarton mentioned a study of Leonardo da vinci’s scientific manuscripts, which would take “about six months” to finish, and a book on The Teaching of the History of Science, which would take a further six months. A little later he was confiding to Woodward that throughout his life he planner “to carry on simultaneously research on ancient science and on XIXth century science.” This same letter referred specifically to “my book on XIXth century physics,”

In further exchanges Sarton set out one of those ambitious overarching programs that continually recurred in his thinking. The plan was “to lay the foundation of an empirical philosophy of science, to evidence the unity of science.” The means included Isis; an annual series of studies in the history and method of science to be jointly edited with Charles Singer of Oxford; a “General History of Science and Civilization, to be written on an extensive scale by a large group of scholars”; a history of physics in the nineteenth century; a complete account of the [ancient] beginnings of science; facsimile copies of scientific books and manuscripts; a Chinese encyclopedia; an exhibition of the progress of science; and a catalogue of scientific instruments down to 1900. In all this, the cooperation of Charles Singer was described as essential: and if he could be brought to Washington (where Sarton still intended to go), the city would become an international center for the history of science.

The work on Leonardo gradually made Satron aware of his own historical naiveté and lack of training. In common with all founders of disciplines, he was perforce an autodidact. His very anxiety to escape from dilettantism and to establish critical standards also protracted his work. Another reason for slow progress was Sarton’s incurable tendency to project and begin several studies at once. His first annual report to the Carnegie Institution refers to the Leonardo studies, the accumulation of materials for a history of physics in the nineteenth century, “activity in behalf of the new humanism,” and plans for a retrospective survey on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Carnegie Institution. Characteristically, this last would “consider to the Institution not as an isolated unit, but as part of the scientific organization of the world.”

As if these activities were not enough, early the next year Sarton was planning a general history of science. The work was to be edited jointly with Singer, written by the scholars best qualified, and published in ten or twelve volumes over the next decade by the Oxford University Press. As late as 1934 Sarton was still projecting what had by then become The Harvard History of Science in eight illustrated volumes “comparable to the Cambridge Medieval History and other Cambridge and Oxford standard collection.” All this was in addition to his published plans for a research institute in the history of science, an incessant round of travel and public lecturing, the detailed personal editing and directing of Isis, and, throughout, work on the Introduction itself. This vast labyrinth of labor left no time for a private social life (although an hour of classical music remained a daily anodyne). And only by heroic effort could Sarton keep track of his many commitments and produce that controlled order he loved and which his critical bibliographies exemplify.

Sarton’s tendency to project programs in the history of science had ramified intellectual roots. Never having been trained for historical work, he long underestimated its difficulty and slow-moving character, until hard-won experience taught him otherwise. Then again he was burdened with a sense of how many different things wanted doing, and all quickly, if the history of science were to become an academically reputable subject. Journals, teaching manuals, standard histories, source books, and, above all, critical bibliographies of what already existed and was being produced each was desperately needed and would, if necessary, be produced by Sarton himself. In thinking so, he was of course displaying his emerging orientation as a visionary, almost solipsistic scholar rather than as administrative entrepreneur. But beyond such reasons, Sarton embraced global projects because he passionately believed in the unity of knowledge, in the integrity of experience, and in the need for a holistic philosophy that embraced art and science. “The moral failure which the [First World] War implied” made this philosophy all the more urgent. Only what the came to call “the new humanism” could afford the necessary “mixing of the historical with the scientific spirit, of life with knowledge, or beauty with truth.” Specialization everywhere threatened such broader insight and reinforced Sarton’s belief in “the necessity of synthetic or encyclopedic studies, to keep alive the pure spirit of science.’ In holding these views he manifested on French-language response to Cassirer and other neo-Kantian cultural generalists, just as Sarton’s own idols had earlier reacted to the then-ruling German Kantians and Hegelians.

It was out of this complex background that Sarton’s most ambitious and significant work gradually took shape. The essential impulse came in 1919. When he returned to Belgium and retrieved his private notes. With these notes at last safely ensconced in Widener Library, his second annual report to the Carnegie Institution was able to reintroduce what he described as “an old design.” It was “the writing of an introduction to the history and philosophy of science, a sort of compendium of the sources of information to which the student ... may have refer.” By January 1921 the project had grown greatly in scope. The work was now to be in two parts, dealing with the history and philosophy of science as a whole and the history and philosophy of special sciences and their branches. The fundamental aim remained that of establishing the history of science as an independent discipline, with its own tools and methods. The project continued to grow and develop in Sarton’s mind. By 1927, with the appearance of the first volumes of what was by then to be a multivolume Introduction to the History of Science. Sarton envisaged the project as containing “A purely chronological survey ... which will require seven or eight more volumes,” “Surveys of different types of civilization, e.g. Jewish, Muslim, Chinese ... [in] seven or eight volumes,” and a “Survey of the evolution of special sciences ... [in] some eight or nine volumes.”

Sarton was forty-three years of age, with ample time, he felt, to finish the first series down through the eighteenth century, write parts of the Semitic and Far Eastern volumes for the second, and write the whole of the physical sciences volume for the third series. In actuality, work on the Introduction progressed far more slowly than his optimism allowed. It was to be 1948 before the third (and final) volume of this magisterial work appeared. Even then is contents reached only as far as A.D. 1400.

The public events of the 1930’s and 1940’s together with the growing realization of the immensity of the task he had undertaken, served to erode the beliefs that lay behind Sarton’s Introduction As he wrote many times, “the day of Munich was the nadir of my life.” Another blow from quite a different direction was the decision of the Carnegie Institution in 1941 “not to continue the work on the history of science after I am gone.” The failure of Harvard to support his plans for an institute was equally hard to accept. J.B. Conant did, however, show his sympathy for the man, if not his ambitious plans, in 1940. In his capacity as Harvard president he arranged Sarton’s transfer from lecturer on annual appointment to professor with tenure. Even after this new arrangement. Sarton still drew the major part of his salary from the Carnegie Institution. Yet he was moved to write Conant that “I hope that the day may come when I would serve only Harvard, which appreciates the humanities, including the humanities of science, and not the Carnegie Institution, which considers them “irrelevant.’” But Conant preferred to have Carnegie continue to pay.

After all, Sarton was, in the special calculus of Harvard, a marginal although illustrious man. In 1940 he had still to produce his first successful Ph.D. Candidate, his undergraduate courses remained small, and he almost completely avoided all committee service and routine academic administration. The difference in attitude of the research scholar and the budget-conscious university president was highlighted in Contant’s politely negative response to one of Sarton’s articles on an institute for the history of science: “I can sum up my point of view by saying that I feel Macaulay was necessary in the development of scholarly and reputable political history, although I understand that now he is not considered as being at all scholarly and hardly reputable. I feel the history of science badly needs a Macaulay, indeed several of them.’

Sarton was manifestly no Macaulay, and his enduring monument lies not in narrative accounts that have shaped the thinking of a generation, nor in lectures and students. It lies rather in the creation of tools, standards, and critical self-awareness in a discipline. The Introduction was foremost among these tools. In form somewhat like an “inspired dictionary” (as Singer was to label it), the Introduction deals with the emergence and growth of positive knowledge by means of contemporaneous surveys across all disciplines, races, and cultures, and by systematic division into half-century time units. Critical bibliography was another essential basis of the work. Hence the deliberate cross-linking of information in the Introduction with that contained in Isis (and its later occasional fellow-journal Osiris). As Sarton himself expressed it in retrospective summary:

The materials contained in the Introduction, Isis and Osiris are integrated by means of thousands of cross references. Thus we may say that volume 1 [of the Introduction] was built on a foundation of 8 volumes: volume 2, on a foundation of 15: volume 3 on a fundation of 42....the Introduction is the most elaborate work of its kind, and by far, in world literature. This statement can be made without falling under the suspicion of boasting, for it is objective, controllable, and obviously correct.

Besides such heroic achievement, Sarton’s many other publications appear almost lightearted. In his later years, especially, he occupied named lectureships at a number of American universities. From them came such studies as The History of Science and the New Humanism (New York, 1931) and Appreciation of Ancient and Medieval Science During the Renaissance (Philadephia, 1955). The same desire to make his message known and his discipline accessible lay behind a bibliographic venture likeHorus: A Guide to the History of Science (Waltham, Massachusetts, 1952). His last years were largely devoted to work on the projected eight-volume History of Science, from antiquity to the present, which was to emerge from his lecture at Harvard from 1916 to 1951. He lived to complete two volumes: Ancient Science Through the Golden Age of Greece (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1952) and the posthumously published Hellenistic Science and Culture in the Last Three Centuries B.C. (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1959).

In what amounted to his last testament, Sarton continued to express his faith that “the only road to intellectual progress was scientific research.” Yet paradoxically, as various historians of science in antiquity observed in their review, these readable volumes, rich in factual detail and lacking in the synthesis of ideas, were primarily devoted to cultural history rather than narrowly scientific development.

George Sarton came to epitomize the history of science to both European and American audiences. In the years immediately after World War II, when the first small cluster of teaching positions in the discipline were appearing in the United States, he automatically served as the central reference point—the continuing propagandist for, and the ideal type of, the historian of science as researcher, scholar, and teacher. The international and the intensely personal aspects of his achievement also won increasing recognition. He was honored with a rich variety of awards, including the Charles Homer Haskins Medal of the Mediaeval Academy of America (1949) and the George Sarton Medal of the History of Science Society (1955). In 1934 he was elected to the American Philosophical Society.

Sarton’s immediate influence in the postwar years was that of the catalyst rather than that of the reactant. He had only a limited intellectual impact on the discipline he did so much to create. His holistic concerns, his ambition for full comprehension, and his emphasis on the moral virtues of historical inquiry all ran counter to the preference for depth, particularity of pertinent detail, and detached analysis that have increasingly characterized historical scholarship (not just the history of science) over the last half-century. The positivistic cast of his thought (“I have tried to name the people who were first to do this or that: to take the first step in the right direction... .”) and his belief in the uniqueness of science were antithetical to the idealistic, intuitionistic, and relativistic currents so powerful in recent Western thought. Finally, his emphasis on historical approaches through biography and bibliography, necessary and useful as they are, could not capture the imagination of scholars or provide a powerful technique of analysis around which a research school could form.

Instead Sarton opened the way for Koyré to have a major impact on the first generation of American “professional” historians of science, when shifts in the larger society created a demand for university teachers of this new discipline in the later 1950’s and early 1960’s Equipped with a growing range of reference aids and a profound sense of the importance of their task, they could not find in Sarton’s work coherent general ideas or theoretically derived, finite problems and techniques of investigation.

Sarton’s influence on the discipline he labored so faithfully to create has thus been further obscured. His monument is also of its nature becoming progressively less visible to newcomers to the field. In founding a journal, in emphasizing critical bibliography, in essaying broad surveys, and above all in writing the Introduction, he was creating elements required by the discipline, not methods to be emulated or finished products for display. Yet as all those who turn to his work are aware, he also possessed, preached, and put into practice a range of insights that reveal a mind of remarkable range, catholicity, and tenacity. And of course his pressence at Harvard was crucial to the later creation and legitimation of a department that is now one of the world’s major centers of the history of science.

The limits of Sarton’s influence on the history of science reveal by default how the cognitive identity of a discipline is a matter of theoretical orientation and worldview as well as tools and techniques. His inability to engineer the careers and train the disciples who would create a professional identity for his subject also demonstrates how much this latter aspect of discipline-building depends on factory of science is now a firmly institutionalized field of learning. At first glance it shows little trace of Sarton’s influence. Yet he not only created and assembled the necessary building materials through heroic feats of labor, but he also saw himself as—and he was—the first deliberate architect of the history of science as an independent and organized discipline.


Sarton wrote 15 books and over 300 articles and notes, besides editing Isis for almost 40 years and personally producing 79 critical bibliographies of the history of science (containing perhaps 100,000 of his brief analyses). For a complete bibliography of his publications, with a number of illuminating essarys by coleagues, pupils, and friends, see the memorial issue of Isis, 49 (1957). There are many other obituary notices in scholarly journals.

More immediately helpful as a source for the study of Sarton’s achievements is his daughter’s delightful “Sketches for an Autobiography,” in May Sarton. I Knew a Phoenix (New York, 1969). She has also written “An Informal Portrait of George Sarton,” in Texas Quarterly, 5 (1962). 101–112. For a sampling of Sarton’s varied writings, see Dorothy Stimson, ed., Sarton on the History of Science (Cambridge, Mass., 1962). The most recent study of his work is Arnold Thackray and Robert K. Merton, “On Discipline-Building: the Paradoxes of George Sarton,” in Isis, 63 (1972), 673–695. Sarton’s University education is treated by J. Gillis, “Paul Mansion en George Sarton,” in Mededelingen van der Koninklijke Academie ... van Beligië, Klasse der Wetenschappen, 35 (1973), 3–21.

Some of Sarton’s correspondence now preserved in Belgium is in Paul Van Oye, George Sarton, de Mens en zijn Werk uit Brieven aan Vrienden en Kennissen (Brussels, 1965). Most of the letters are in French or English and date from his youth. The commentary is in Flemish. Further letters of this period (in French) are in Suzanne Delorme, “La naissance d’Isis,”. in Actes du XIe Congrés international d’histoire des sciences, 2 (Warsaw, 1967). 223–232. Lynn Thorndike’s contribution to the memorial issue of Isis also includes some of his and Sarton’ correspondence over the years.

Much Sarton correspondence undoubtedly exists in other private archives. Several collections of his letters are publicly available. Somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 letters from 2,108 and to 788 correspondents are preserved and indexed in the Houghton Library of Harvard University. Small but important collections are at California Institute of Technology (George Ellery Hale papers) and Columbia University (David Eugene Smith papers). An unknown number of letters (perhaps 500 to 1,000) to and from the president of the Carnegie institution of Washington are also available in an uncatalogued state in the Institution library. Sarton’s work for and in relation to the Carnegie Institution over the years may be followed in his reports, published annually in the Institution Yearbook from 1919 to 1949.

Arnold Thackray
Robert K. Merton