Fonds 1161 - Charles Norris Cochrane fonds

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Reference code

UTA 1161


Charles Norris Cochrane fonds


  • 1903 – [199-] (predominant 1920s - 1945) (Creation)

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Extent and medium

3.98 m of textual and graphic records (28 boxes, 2 files)

Context area

Name of creator


Biographical history

Professor Charles Norris Cochrane was born on August 21, 1889, the son of Charles Edward Cochrane, a physician and his wife Anne Charlotte Norris in Omemee Ontario. He graduated from University College with a B.A. in 1911, winning the McCaul Medal in Classics. After a two year fellowship at Corpus Christie College, Oxford, he returned to the University of Toronto as a lecturer in Classics in 1913. During the First World War, he was active in the C.O.T.C. and in 1918 went overseas with the 1st Tank Battalion. Upon returning in 1919, he received his M.A. and was appointed an assistant professor of Greek and Roman History. In 1929, he became a full professor and succeeded W.S. Milne as head of the Department of Greek and Roman History. In 1924, he was named Dean of Residence for University College. He held both positions until his death on November 23, 1945 at the age of 56. During the Second World War, he was on an advisory committee to the Minister of Justice that heard appeals of prisoners interned under the Defence of Canada Regulations. He was also active in evacuating the children of Oxford University faculty.
The Cochrane family housed two children from 1940-1942.

At the time of his death, Cochrane was considered an international authority on ancient Rome and Greece. His first book written in this field was Thucydides and the Science of History (Oxford 1929). It was recognized by colleagues “as shedding entirely new light on the work of the Greek historian”. Some ten years later in 1940, Cochrane received international acclaim for his book Christianity and Classical Culture: A Study of Thought and Action from Augustus to Augustine. The importance in this work is summarized best in the words of his contemporary, Harold Innis, “His concern not only with the role of thought in Greco-Roman civilization, but also with its reflection in the work of its great historians, enabled him to make the first major Canadian contribution to the intellectual history of the West.” George Parkin Grant called Cochrane’s magnum opus, “the most important book ever written by a Canadian.” In February 2004, it was republished and a recent reviewer noted “Christianity and Classical Culture has survived the test of time to remain a pillar of philosophical, religious, and cultural analysis." --John Taylor, The Midwest Book Review, February 2004. In 1946, the Royal Society of Canada posthumously awarded Cochrane the Lorne Pierce Medal for original contribution to literature.

An excerpt below from the brief biography appearing in The Canadian Encyclopedia (2004) written by Arthur Kroker captures the essence of Cochrane’s ideas and his place among Canadian intellectual thinkers
"A classical historian by profession, but a deeply tragic thinker by heart, Cochrane devoted his life to an intellectual meditation on the failure of reason to secure a "permanent and enduring" basis for civilization. He was haunted by the insight that in the absence of a principle of "creative integration," Western civilization was doomed to oscillate between idealism (animal faith) and naturalism (the detritus of skepticism)... An unappreciated thinker, especially in his native Canada, Cochrane must be considered among the leading 20th-century philosophers of civilization."

Archival history

C.N. Cochrane’s papers were entrusted to his son, Hugh David Cochrane who had kept them until his death in 2002. They were then donated to the Archives via C.N. Cochrane’s granddaughter, Margaret Phillips.

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Scope and content

Records in this fonds document to a limited degree the two writings noted above. There are galley proofs, some correspondence and numerous reviews documenting Christianity and Classical Culture. While there is no draft of any form of Thucydides, there is one file containing correspondence, comments and reviews. It is possible however that notes found in Series 5 relate to the research done for both books as well and lectures and other writings. Series 5 is by far the most extensive series accounting for nearly half the volume of records in this fonds and include not only notes but a bibliographic card index and books from Cochrane’s library that he had annotated.

Apart from his two major publications, Cochrane gave many lectures, wrote reviews and articles. A bibliography can be found in Appendix 1. At the time of his death, it was anticipated that his Yale lectures on St. Augustine would be published as a sequel to Christianity and Classical Culture. He was also doing research on historian Carl Becker and Greek jurisprudence. Early in his career, he wrote a report for the National Council of Education on the teaching of history and civics in Canadian schools (April 1923). He later teamed up with University of Toronto Librarian W.S. Wallace, to write a school textbook entitled This Canada of Ours, an Introduction to Canadian Civics. (Oxford University Press, 1924). Records relating to all of these works can be found in Series 3 and 4.

There were other aspects of his life that are, to a limited degree, documented in these records. As noted above, he was dean of University College residence – the first to hold this position since 1899. His appointment corresponded with the opening of the men’s commons room in University College. Some routine correspondence relating to this can be found in Series 1. Cochrane’s role as a teacher is somewhat better covered with several series of lecture notes as well as annotated exams. There are however no records relating to his administration of the Department of Ancient History while he chaired the department after 1929.

While there are no records relating to his participation in the 1st World War, two aspects of his life during the 2nd World War are fairly well documented. In Series 1, there is extensive correspondence and notes relating to the Oxford evacuees, especially regarding the children of family friend Kenneth Bell and more notably the two Clark children who stayed with the Cochranes. As well, there are extensive records documenting his position as advisor to the Minister of Justice on the committee hearing appeals from prisoners interned under the Defence of Canada Regulations, including case files on several notable communists such as Tim Buck, J B. Salsberg, Jacob Penner, Leslie Morris, Fred Rose, Bill Kashtin and Stanley Ryerson. Cochrane also co-authored a Memorandum on the Communist Party in Canada for the Ministry of Justice that discusses whether the Communist Party should continue to be illegal in view of the fact that the USSR was by now an ally. These records are found in Series 6.

Finally, some family photographs have been kept and mainly document Cochrane’s two children, Mary Ann and Hugh David Cochrane.

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Series 6 – Case files relating to the Advisory Committee, Defence of Canada Regulations are restricted for 75 years. Consult University Archivist. All other records are open.

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Dates of creation revision deletion

-Original finding aid by Marnee Gamble, 2004; revised 2014; revised 2020
-Added to AtoM by Karen Suurtamm, Summer 2015; revised March 2021 by M. Gamble




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