History Chair Awarded Prestigious Mathematics Award

Karen Parshall, Parshall, Chair of the UVA Corcoran Department of History and Commonwealth Professor of History and Mathematics
Karen Parshall, Parshall, Chair of the UVA Corcoran Department of History and Commonwealth Professor of History and Mathematics
Bryan Parsons, American Mathematical Society

The American Mathematical Society has awarded its 2018 Albert Leon Whiteman Memorial Prize to Karen Hunger Parshall for her groundbreaking work in the history of mathematics. Established in 1998, the prestigious honor recognizes notable exposition and exceptional scholarship in the history of mathematics.

Parshall, the chair of the Corcoran Department of History and Commonwealth Professor of History and Mathematics, is being recognized for her work on the evolution of mathematics in the United States and on the history of algebra, as well as for her substantial contribution to the international life of her discipline through her teaching, editorial work, and conference presentations. She is scheduled to receive the Whiteman Prize on Jan. 11 at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in San Diego.

In a statement released by the AMS, Parshall said she was deeply honored and profoundly humbled to be named the 2018 recipient of the Whiteman Prize.

“Since 1988, when its then Dean of the Faculty, the physicist Hugh Kelly, made possible a completely unheard of 50-50 joint appointment for me in History and Mathematics, the University of Virginia has provided a challenging but supportive environment,” Parshall said. “I have pursued my research, trained graduate students in the history of mathematics, and introduced undergraduates to the amazingly rich histories of science and mathematics. 

“I have continually benefited from my daily bouncing back and forth between conversations with colleagues in both of my departments. Two in particular, my colleague in History, Joe Kett, and my colleague in Mathematics, my husband Brian Parshall, have, through their respective insights, helped me become a better historian of mathematics. And, the same is true of my Ph.D. students ­– Della Dumbaugh, Patti Hunter, Sloan Despeaux, Deborah Kent, and Laura Martini– while they were working on their dissertations and in the years since.”

Parshall has been an invited hour speaker at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Zürich (1994), a plenary lecturer at three Joint Mathematics Meetings (1995, 2000, and 2008), and one of the MAA’s Centennial Speakers (2013). In 2002, she was elected as a Corresponding Member of the Académie international d’histoire des sciences. She became an Inaugural Fellow of the AMS in 2012.

“I came to realize that, even though it may have seemed like I had to carve, with much help, my own academic niche, I was by no means alone, Parshall said. “I came, through the Joint Mathematics Meetings and the efforts initially of Victor Katz and Fred Rickey, to realize that there was a vibrant community of historians of mathematics in the United States as well as internationally. Joe Dauben at the City University of New York, and the fourth Whiteman Memorial Prize winner, has been a constant source of professional inspiration throughout my career, as was the noted English historian of mathematics, Ivor Grattan-Guinness.  Another friend and colleague, Albert Lewis, opened for me the treasure trove that is the Archive of American Mathematics. My debts to other colleagues and collaborators in the United States, Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Italy, Mexico, Brazil, Australia, China, and elsewhere are simply too numerous to detail.

“I extend my most heartfelt thanks to all of these colleagues as well as to the AMS’s selection committee. My thanks also go to Sally Whiteman.  She made the Alfred Leon Whiteman Memorial Prize possible and, in so doing, prominently recognized research in the history of mathematics within the broader mathematical research community.”