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Thrupp, Sylvia L. (1903–) - Medieval History

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Sylvia Lettice Thrupp was born in 1903 in England. She attended the University of British Columbia, where she earned both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. She then attended the London School of Economics, where she earned the Ph.D. in 1931. Thrupp stayed on at the London School of Economics, completing a postdoctoral fellowship there in 1933. She then held a fellowship from the Social Science Research Council from 1933 to 1935.

Thrupp’s first academic appointment was at the University of British Columbia, where she taught from 1935 to 1944. She then taught for a year at the University of Toronto before accepting a job at the University of Chicago, where she taught from 1945 to 1961. From 1961 to 1977, when she retired, Sylvia Thrupp held the Alice Freeman Palmer Chair at the University of Michigan. The Palmer Chair, offered only to women historians, was established in the name of the first president of Wellesley College, a graduate of the University of Michigan.

Thrupp is perhaps best known and most respected for editing and founding an interdisciplinary journal, Comparative Studies in Society and History , published by Cambridge University Press. Founded in 1958 and still one of the preeminent journals in social science in the world, Comparative Studies was international as well as interdisciplinary from the start. As Thrupp argued, comparative work was the best defense against the errors that would result in the work of scholars who “snatched at systems based on cursory leaping at apparent similarities.” The union of history and the social sciences, in fact, was her lifelong ambition. One of her early arguments along these lines, “What History and Sociology Can Learn from Each Other,” published in 1956, provided a discussion of the multiple uses of quantitative methods in research.

In her own research, which includes several major studies of medieval England, Thrupp explored the many coexisting cultures of England as well as the broader context of Europe in the Middle Ages. She wrote two books, edited three others, and wrote over thirty articles. Her influence among scholars of many nations and many disciplines has been widespread. A collection of her essays, entitled Society and History: Essays by Sylvia Thrupp , was published in 1977. Four internationally known scholars, from four different countries and disciplines, introduce the sections of the book, which contains twenty-three essays. “Probably few historians of any nation have ranged as widely and expertly over both history and the social sciences as Sylvia Thrupp,” argues Thomas Cochran in his introduction.

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