David Edwin Pingree, 1933-2005 H-ASIA Obituary note

Frank Conlon conlon at U.WASHINGTON.EDU
Thu Nov 17 03:31:20 UTC 2005

Cross post from H-ASIA

November 16, 2005

Professor David Edwin Pingree, 1933-2005
From: Frank Conlon <conlon at u.washington.edu>

It is my very sad duty to report the death from the complications of 
diabetes, on Friday, November 11, 2005, of Professor David Edwin Pingree, 
the internationally recognized specialist in the history of ancient 
mathematics, and head of the Department of the History of Mathematics at 
Brown University.

Pingree's scholarly contributions ranged across the ancient worlds of Asia 
and the Middle East.  He edited and translated numerous editions of texts 
on astronomy, astrology, mathematics and magic from Akkadian, Arabic, 
Greek, Latin, Persian and Sanskrit sources.  Pingree's work was not that 
of cultivation of minutiae.  Rather, he placed strong emphasis on the 
transmission of science from one culture to another, and cultural 
influence on the content and expression of scientific thought.  He 
emphasized the ways in which the recipient culture might alter the ideas 
from another culture in order to render them accessible. Pingree once 
stated "each time there is a transmission there is a transformation,"  His 
students learned paleography, codicology, Indian epigraphy, ancient and 
medieval Indian history as well as studies of the Ancient Near East and 

Though his textual command, he was often able to employ surviving records 
of a later period and culture to reconstruct the sciences of an earlier 
one. For example, he used Greek astrology to clarify earlier Babylonian 
omen texts; 8th- and 9th-century Arabic texts to reconstruct 5th-century 
Sassanian (Persian) astronomy and astrology; and Byzantine Greek 
astronomical tables to reconstruct their Arabic and Persian sources.

He was an advisory editor for the _Journal for the History of Astronomy_, 
the _Journal for History of Arabic Science_, _Arabic Sciences and 
Philosophy_; _International Journal of the Classical Tradition_; and 
_Historia Mathematica_, and was co-editor of _Islamic Philosophy, 
Theology, and Sciences_.

David Pingree was a prolific scholar with about forty-three books and 
monographs and over 240 articles published.  Among his more recent 
published books are _The Astronomical works of Dasabala_ (Aligarh: Viveka 
Publications, 1988); _The Grahajñana of Asadhara together with the 
Ganitacudamani of Harihara_ (Aligarh: Viveka Publications, 1989); with 
Charles Burnett, _The Liber Aristotilis of Hugo of Santalla_ (London: 
Warburg Institute, 1997) _From Astral Omens to Astrology: From Babylon to 
Bikaner_ (Rome: Istituto italiano per l'Africa et l'Oriente, 1997)
and _ Enuma Anu Enlil: Babylonian Planetary Omens, part three_ (with Erika 
Reiner) (Groningen, Styx, 1998); _Astral sciences in Mesopotamia_ by 
Hermann Hunger and David Pingree (Leiden: Brill, 1999; _Sharh 
al-Tadhkirah: Arabic astronomy in Sanskrit: Al-Birjand¯i on Tadhkira II, 
chapter 11, and its Sanskrit translation_, edited, commented, and 
translated by  Takanori Kusuba & David Pingree (Leiden: Brill, 2002); _A 
descriptive catalogue of the Sanskrit astronomical manuscripts preserved 
at the Maharaja Man Singh II Museum in Jaipur, India_/ compiled by David 
Pingree from the notes taken by Setsuro Ikeyama ... [et al.](Philadelphia: 
American Philosophical Society, 2003); __Catalogue of jyotisa manuscripts 
in the Wellcome Library: Sanskrit astral and mathematical literature_ 
(Leiden: Brill, 2004)

An example of the breadth of his learning may be glimpsed from two 
lectures he gave during a visit to Cornell University in 2000:"The 
Earliest Version of Jagannatha's Siddhantakaustubha," and "Rhetorius, the 
Last Greek Astrologer of Alexandria,"

At Brown, he was the only professor in a unique department of History of 
Mathematics, founded by the late Otto Neugebauer in 1947.  Pingree joined 
Brown in in 1971 and headed the department since 1986. He was planning to 
retire at the end of the current academic year.  It is particularly sad 
and unsettling to note that, after higher administrators at Brown allowed 
Pingree's department to shrink, the current Provost Robert Zimmer informed 
Pingree by e-mail the day before his death that the university was 
contemplating closing the program altogether.  In an interview which 
appeared in the  _Brown Daily Herald_ on November 9, Pingree had observed 
that the unique program had been created as a special center of 
scholarship by earlier administrators.  He recalled that when he came to 
Brown in the 1970s : "we were under a very different administration, and 
that administration respected what we did."  In an article in _Inside 
HigherEd_ (November 15, 2005), Rob Capriccioso reports that Provost Robert 
Zimmer "denied that any decisions were based on enrollment or financial 
figures. 'We're not losing a part of the University - the configurations 
are evolving, ... The real question is what is the optimal configuration 
to support the work of our students and faculty.'"  David's colleague 
Peter Scharf said of the current university administration: "I don't think 
they ever really knew what Dr. Pingree did . . .there~'s a new provost, 
new deans -- they just don't understand."

David Edwin Pingree was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1933, son of 
Daniel and Elizabeth (Maconi) Pingree.  He graduated from Phillips 
Academy, Andover and Harvard University where he did both his 
baccalaureate degree and completed his PhD. in 1960 under the supervision 
of Daniel Ingells and Otto Neugebauer.  He first visited India in 1958, 
studying Sanskrit; then returned to Harvard to study Arabic.  He 
subsequently joined the University of Chicago, moving to Brown in 1971. 
He was recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a MacArthur Fellowship, was 
elected a member of the American Philosophical Society and the Institute 
for Advanced Study.  Last year he was honored in the publication of a 
festscrift _Studies in the history of the exact sciences in honour of 
David Pingree_ (Leiden: Brill, 2004)(Edited by Charles Burnett). ; [ISBN: 

A private funeral service will be held and a memorial service at Brown 
University will be scheduled later.  David is survived by his wife 
Isabelle Sanchirico Pingree, a daughter, two brothers and a sister.  In 
lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be directed to the American 
Diabetes Association.

Frank F. Conlon
University of Washington
          To post to  H-ASIA  simply send your message to:
                          <H-ASIA at h-net.msu.edu>
            For holidays or short absences send post to:
                  <listserv at h-net.msu.edu> with message:
                          SET H-ASIA NOMAIL
         Upon return, send post with message SET H-ASIA MAIL
         H-ASIA WEB HOMEPAGE URL:    http://h-net.msu.edu/~asia/

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list