David Pingree

David Edwin Pingree (January 2, 1933, New Haven, Connecticut – November 11, 2005, Providence, Rhode Island) was a University Professor, and Professor of History of Mathematics and Classics at Brown University, and one of America's leading historians of the exact sciences in antiquity (primarily mathematics).[1]


He graduated from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts in 1950 and thereafter attended Harvard University, where he earned his doctorate in 1960 with a dissertation on the supposed transmission of Hellenistic astrology to India under the joint supervision of Daniel Henry Holmes Ingalls, Sr. and Otto Eduard Neugebauer.[2] After completing his PhD, Pingree remained at Harvard three more years as a member of its Society of Fellows before moving to the University of Chicago to accept the position of Research Associate at the Oriental Institute.

He joined the History of Mathematics Department at Brown University in 1971, eventually holding the chair until his death.[3]

As successor to Otto Neugebauer (1899–1990) in Brown's History of Mathematics Department (which Neugebauer established in 1947), Pingree numbered among his colleagues men of extraordinary learning, especially Abraham Sachs and Gerald Toomer.[4][5][6]


D. Pingree is known for propounding his theory of "unoriginality" of the Indian science of astronomy (jyotiṣa), the majority of this science rests, according to his preference, solely on foreign concepts. He claimed that all in early Indian astronomy came from Babylonia even in the absence of any evidence for this thesis. This theory of unoriginality is highly debated amongst scholars and many of his arguments have been dismissed. K. S. Shukla for example, points out Pingree’s free and incorrect amendations to the manuscript of the Yavanajataka. According to the historian of astronomy Bill Mak: "New reading and evidences suggest however that David Pingree’s dating of the original by Yavaneśvara (149/150CE) and translation by Sphujidhvaja (269/270CE) is untenable. In the first place, there has all along been only one author, Sphujidhvaja, who was known also as Yavaneśvara. Furthermore, there was no date given in the colophon. The dates were Pingree’s own emendation." [7][8]

The French historian of astronomy Roger Billard in his book "Astronomie Indienne" (1975) dismissed Pingree's theory that Indian astronomical tables were derived from Babylonia by showing that this theory was in conflict with internal evidence in the Indian texts.


Jon McGinnis of the University of Missouri, St. Louis, describes Pingree's life-work thus:

... Pingree devoted himself to the study of the exact sciences, such as mathematics, mathematical astronomy and astral omens. He was also acutely interested in the transmission of those sciences across cultural and linguistic boundaries. His interest in the transmission of the exact sciences came from two fronts or, perhaps more correctly, his interest represents two sides of the same coin. On the one hand, he was concerned with how one culture might appropriate, and so alter, the science of another (earlier) culture in order to make that earlier scientific knowledge more accessible to the recipient culture. On the other hand, Pingree was also interested in how scientific texts surviving from a later culture might be used to reconstruct or cast light on our fragmentary records of earlier sciences. In this quest, Pingree would, with equal facility use ancient Greek works to clarify Babylonian texts on divination, turn to Arabic treatises to illuminate early Greek astronomical and astrological texts, seek Sanskrit texts to explain Arabic astronomy, or track the appearance of Indian astronomy in medieval Europe.[9]

In June, 2007 the Brown University Library acquired Pingree's personal collection of scholarly materials. The collection focuses on the study of mathematics and exact sciences in the ancient world, especially India, and the relationship of Eastern mathematics to the development of mathematics and related disciplines in the West. The collection contains some 22,000 volumes, 700 fascicles, and a number of manuscripts. The holdings consist of both antiquarian and recent materials published in Sanskrit, Arabic, Hindi, Persian and Western languages.[10]


Recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1975 and a MacArthur Fellowship in 1981, he was a member of the Society of Fellows at Harvard, the American Philosophical Society, and the Institute for Advanced Study; he was also A.D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University from 1995.[11]

Selected works

  • 1970: Census of the Exact Sciences in Sanskrit (5 volumes) American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia
  • 1976: Dorothei Sidonii carmen astrologicum (Teubner, Leipzig).
  • 1978: The Yavanajātaka of Sphujidhvaja (2 volumes), Harvard Oriental Series 48[12][13]
  • 1986:Vettii Valentis Antiocheni Anthologiarum Libri Novem (Teubner, Leipzig).
  • 1997: (edited with Charles Burnett) The Liber Aristotilis of Hugo of Santalla, Warburg Institute Surveys and Texts 26, London
  • 2002: (with Takanori Kusuba) Arabic Astronomy in Sanskrit: Al-Birjandī on Tadhkira II, Chapter 11 and its Sanskrit Translation, Brill, Leiden
  • 2005: (with Erica Reiner) Babylonian Planetary Omens, Brill, Leiden
  • See the Worldcat listing for further titles.


  1. "In Memoriam" Mathematical Association of America
  2. David Pingree at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  3. "A brief history of the Department ", Wilbour Hall
  4. “Remembering David E. Pingree” Archived 2006-09-04 at the Wayback Machine, Jon McGinnis
  5. http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2005/11/15/histmath
  6. "Memorial" Archived 2007-09-27 at the Wayback Machine, Bulletin of the Canadian Society for History and Philosophy of Mathematics, Toke Lindegaard Knudsen, pp. 5–6
  7. Bill Mak (Kyoto University), The transmission of Greek astral science to India reconsidered - Critical remarks on the contents and the newly discovered manuscript of the Yavanajātaka. Institute for Research in Humanities, 2012.10.27.
  8. http://www.billmak.com/category/astronomy/indian-astronomy/page/2/
  9. Jon McGinnis (University of Missouri, St. Louis), Remembering David E. Pingree. The International Society for the History of Arabic/Islamic Science and Philosophy website. Retrieved 26 October 2011.
  10. "Brown University Library Acquires Collection of David E. Pingree"
  11. "David E. Pingree: An Unpublished Autobiography" Archived 2010-06-14 at the Wayback Machine, William M. Calder III and Stephan Heilen
  12. Dhavale, D. G. (1984). "The Yavanajataka of Sphujidhvaja by David Pingree". Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. 65 (1/4): 266–267. JSTOR 41693124.
  13. Rocher, Ludo (March 1980). "The Yavanajataka of Sphujidhvaja by David Pingree". Isis. 71 (1): 173–174. doi:10.1086/352443. JSTOR 230349.
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