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Institute for the Study of the Ancient World



Christine Proust is historian of mathematics and ancient sciences, specialising in cuneiform sources. She is a member of SPHERE joint team (CNRS and University Paris-Diderot), UMI “Transition” (CNRS and NYU), and she was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton during the first term (Sept. - Dec. 2009). Her research on the history of ancient mathematics began with the study of mathematical cuneiform texts from the ancient Mesopotamian city of Nippur, now kept in the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul and in the University of Jena. She studied the organisation of mathematical curriculum in Nippur’s scribal schools during the Old-Babylonian period (early second millennium BC). Using pedagogical sources, she reconstructed the methods elaborated by ancient scribes to calculate surfaces and volumes. She has published two books on Nippur’s sources: Tablettes mathématiques de Nippur(2007) and Tablettes mathématiques de la collection Hilprecht (2008). She is developing her research into the calculation practices in ancient cultures, particularly within the context of the invention of place value notation, for the project “History of Numerical Tables” led by Dominique Tournès. Additionally, through the study of school material, she has elaborated analytical tools which allow a fuller understanding of the specific significations conveyed by the enumerative structures of the mathematical texts and, more widely, the specificities of technical writing exhibited in the mathematical cuneiform texts. Her current research is focused on mathematical series texts; these are long lists with hundreds of equations, which are probably the most accomplished production of the Mesopotamian scholars in the art of list making. At ISAW, Christine Proust will be working on a contextualized glossary of Sumerian terms, grammatical constructions and textual structures used in mathematical texts. Her goal is to identify particular uses of technical writing inside specific erudite milieus, connected in different ways with northern or southern scribal schools.