Karen Parshall to Receive 2018 AMS Whiteman Prize

Karen Parshall

Commonwealth Professor of Mathematics and History Karen Hunger Parshall will receive the 2018 Albert Leon Whiteman Memorial Prize of the AMS for her outstanding work in the history of mathematics, and in particular, for her work on the evolution of mathematics in the USA and on the history of algebra, as well as for her substantial contribution to the international life of her discipline through students, editorial work, and conferences.

Professor Parshall has a long and distinguished publishing record in the history of mathematics: four seminal books, one monograph, four co-edited volumes, more than 50 research papers, and a great number of reviews and papers directed at wider audiences. She has particularly studied two themes: the evolution of mathematics in the USA and the history of algebra. Parshall unites approaches long thought to be contradictory. She masters impressive amounts of archival evidence, applies utmost scrutiny and competence in analyzing both mathematical content and institutional contexts, and establishes links between local mathematical environments and the appreciation of particular mathematical objects within those environments. The depth and variety of her contributions, historical and mathematical, make her a natural and notable recipient of the Whiteman Prize.

Biographical Sketch of Karen Hunger Parshall:

Since 1988, Parshall has been on the faculty at the University of Virginia, where she has a joint appointment in the Departments of History and Mathematics, teaching the history of science in the History Department and mathematics and the history of mathematics in the Mathematics Department.

She 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 internationale d’histoire des sciences, and became an Inaugural Fellow of the AMS in 2012.

Response from Karen Hunger Parshall:

I am deeply honored and profoundly humbled to be named the 2018 recipient of the Albert Leon Whiteman Memorial Prize in the history of mathematics.

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. There, 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 benefitted 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 PhD students–Della Dumbaugh, Patti Hunter, Sloan Despeaux, Deborah Kent, and Laura Martini–while they were working on their dissertations and in the years since.

I also 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. 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.

Background of the Albert Leon Whiteman Memorial Prize:

The Albert Leon Whiteman Memorial Prize recognizes notable exposition and exceptional scholarship in the history of mathematics. It was established in 1998 using funds donated by Mrs. Sally Whiteman in memory of her husband, Albert Leon Whiteman. The 2018 prize will be awarded Thursday, January 11, 2018, at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in San Diego.


Date published: Friday, December 1, 2017