George Sarton (1884-1956), one of the founding fathers of the history of science as an academic discipline, was an alumnus of Ghent University. In 1912, one year after his graduation in physics and mathematics, he wrote to a friend: “J'ai décidé de vouer ma vie à l'étude désintéressée de l'histoire des sciences”. He established two leading journals in the field (Isis in 1912 and Osiris in 1934) and the History of Science Society.

In 1984, at the centenary of Sarton's birthday, Ghent University decided to establish a Sarton Chair of History of Science. Each year the Sarton committee, consisting of representatives of the faculties of Ghent University, selects the Sarton chair holder and the Sarton medallists.

The Sarton chair holder and the medallists are invited to lecture on the history of science in the faculties of the university. The lectures are published in the annual journal Sartoniana.