Former ISAW VRS, Christine Proust, Receives Kenneth O. May Prize

By Hannah McDonald
08/17/2021

Former ISAW VRS, Christine Proust, was one of two awardees of the Kenneth O. May Prize in the History of Mathematics.

Below is the text read at the ceremony

Kenneth O. May Prize and Medal in the History of Mathematics In 1989, the ICHM awarded, for the first time, the Kenneth O. May Prize and Medal in the History of Mathematics. This award honors the memory of Kenneth O. May, mathematician and historian of mathematics, who was instrumental in creating a unified international community of historians of mathematics through his tireless efforts in founding in 1971 the ICHM and in 1974 the ICHM's journal, Historia Mathematica. The Prize is awarded every four years to the historian or historians of mathematics whose work best exemplifies the high scholarly standards and intellectual contributions to the field that May worked so hard to achieve.

"Christine Proust is professor emeritus and senior researcher at the SPHere laboratory, CNRS, and Université de Paris. Proust’s work on calculation techniques, such as her work on a Mesopotamian abacus, elucidated basic mathematical practice and enables us to understand this mathematical culture as distinct from our own. Her work on mathematics at Old Babylonian Nippur changed how we view Babylonian mathematics, affording a better understanding of how numbers, metrology, and calculation were learned and exploited in this distant and unique mathematical culture. Her research on numbers and metrology, produced a more transparent methodology than seen previously, which in turn fosters greater access to Babylonian mathematics by both Assyriologists and by historians of mathematics. Her work on scholars and scholarship in the Mesopotamian city of Uruk, helps us understand how knowledge was produced, circulated, and preserved within an ancient society. Finally, her research into historiography helps us better understand the impact and shortcomings of past research into the history of mathematics.

Proust has developed numerous partnerships to promote research into the history of Babylonian mathematics. She has collaborated to produce new tools to research Babylonian mathematics, and worked closely with researchers from all over the world going beyond her own academic environments to support less experienced researchers and researchers from outside her own academic community. Since the 2000’s Proust has worked with the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative to provide open-access images and editions of cuneiform texts and in the process has pioneered how numbers and metrological systems can be digitalized.

As a teacher, Proust has and will have a lasting impact on both Assyriology and the history of mathematics. She has taken students in ancient geometry, ancient algebra, historiography, education, and much more. She has for years now presided over a group interested in the history of mathematics from all across the globe –from Brazil to Germany, the US to the UK –that meets regularly in person and online to better understand Babylonian mathematics and exchange ideas on this subject."