Otto Neugebauer

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Otto Eduard Neugebauer (born May 26, 1899 in Innsbruck , Austria-Hungary ; died February 19, 1990 in Princeton , New Jersey ) was an Austrian - American mathematician and astronomer . He was best known for his research in the field of the history of astronomy .


Göttingen memorial plaque for Otto Neugebauer

Neugebauer was the son of a road construction engineer (who privately collected oriental carpets), but lost his parents at an early age and attended the “1. kuk-Staatsgymnasium ”in Graz . In 1917/18 he was an artillery lieutenant on the Italian mountain front during World War I and spent almost a year in Italian captivity, where he met Ludwig Wittgenstein . From 1919 he studied electrical engineering and physics (mathematics with Roland Weitzenböck , among others ) at the University of Graz, mathematics and physics from 1921 in Munich with Arnold Sommerfeld and Arthur Rosenthal, and from 1922 in Göttingen mainly mathematics with Richard Courant , Emmy Noether , Edmund Landau and Egyptology with Kurt Sethe and Hermann Kees . In 1923 he became an assistant at Courant in Göttingen. In 1924 he was in Copenhagen with Harald Bohr , with whom he had made friends in Göttingen and with whom he published his only purely mathematical work (on almost periodic functions ). In addition, he studied ancient oriental languages ​​in Rome (Sumerian) and later in Leningrad with Wassili Wassiljewitsch Struwe (who later published the Moscow mathematical papyrus in Neugebauer's magazine Quellen und Studien , on which Neugebauer had also worked in Leningrad) and Boris Turajew . Harald Bohr had asked him in Copenhagen because of his knowledge of ancient Egyptian for a review of a book on the Rhind papyrus , which led to Neugebauer's turn to the history of mathematics. In 1926 he received his doctorate in Göttingen with Courant and David Hilbert on the basics of the Egyptian fractions .

In 1927 he married Grete Bruck.

In early 1928 he began to teach history of mathematics at the University of Göttingen (one of his students was Bartel Leendert van der Waerden , himself later a well-known mathematics historian) and in 1932 became an associate professor. When the National Socialists came to power in 1933, he left Göttingen (he refused to take the oath on the new rulers) and went to the University of Copenhagen. In 1939 he went to Brown University in Providence (Rhode Island) , where a separate department for the history of mathematics was set up for him, he became professor of mathematics history in 1947 and where he remained until the end of his career. In 1969 he formally retired, but continued his work as Professor Emeritus undiminished (his successor was David Pingree ). At the invitation of Hermann Weyl , Otto Neugebauer and Abraham Sachs worked at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton from 1945 . From 1980 he was a permanent member.

Neugebauer is best known for his investigation of non-Greek ancient mathematics and astronomy (Babylonia, Egypt), which were previously neglected and underestimated, and for his text editions concerned in this area. He showed a continuous influence of Babylonian mathematics and astronomy on the Greek world long after the time of Ptolemy. He was known for the fact that he was averse to large-scale mathematical-historical syntheses and preferred detailed work, especially because of the wealth of untapped sources from Babylonia and India at his time. He began a monograph on ancient mathematics and astronomy, but only the first volume appeared in the Basic Teachings of Mathematical Sciences .

In 1931 he founded the departmental organ Zentralblatt der Mathematik , which later developed into the literature database Zentralblatt MATH . When the responsible Springer Verlag enforced the resignation of Jewish members of the advisory board such as Tullio Levi-Civita in the execution of National Socialist demands , Neugebauer resigned like most of the publishers. In 1940 he founded the Mathematical Reviews in the USA , which he edited together with Jacob David Tamarkin (for this reason, among other things, Oswald Veblen brought him to Brown University, since such a review service was not available to the American Mathematical Society after the collapse of the Zentralblatt wanted to do without). With Julius Stenzel and Otto Toeplitz he founded in 1929 the sources and studies on the history of mathematics, astronomy and physics (in series A and B, with source texts being published in A), which appeared until 1938.

In 1986 he received the Balzan Prize for the History of Science for his fundamental studies in the field of the exact sciences in antiquity, in particular Mesopotamian, Egyptian and Greek astronomy . He donated the prize money of 250,000 Swiss francs to the Institute for Advanced Study. He was a member of various scientific academies (in Vienna, Paris, Copenhagen, Brussels), the British Academy (1971), the Royal Irish Academy , the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1946), the National Academy of Sciences (1977), the American Philosophical Society , received the Lewis Prize and Franklin Medal from the American Philosophical Society, the Pfizer Prize from the American History of Science Society, and in 1972 the Austrian Decoration of Honor for Science and Art . In 1979 he received the Mathematical Association of America's Distinguished Service Award . He has also received several honorary doctorates (including from Princeton University and Brown University). In 1936 he gave a plenary lecture at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Oslo ( Pre-Greek Mathematics and its Position on Greek ). The American Philosophical Society honored him in 1987 with their Benjamin Franklin Medal .

His son Gerry Neugebauer was a noted astronomer and physicist at the California Institute of Technology .

Honors and Membership

The asteroid (3484) Neugebauer was named in 1989 after his son Gerry Neugebauer , his wife Marcia and himself.

A prize for the history of mathematics, awarded every four years by the European Mathematical Society since 2012, is named after him. The first prize winner is Jan Hogendijk , Jeremy Gray received the award in 2016 and Karine Chemla in 2020 .


As an author
  • Pre-Greek Mathematics Springer, Berlin 1934.
  • The Exact Sciences in Antiquity . Dover Books, New York 1969, 2003, ISBN 0-486-22332-9 (Reprint of the 2nd edition at Brown University Press, Providence, RI, 1957, first Princeton University Press 1951).
  • A History of Ancient Mathematical Astronomy , 3 volumes, Springer, Berlin 1975, ISBN 3-540-06995-X (3 volumes).
  • Astronomy and History. Selected essays . Springer, New York 1983, ISBN 0-387-90844-7 .
  • Ethiopic Astronomy and Computus , Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1979.
  • with Noel Swerdlow : Mathematical astronomy in Copernicus's De revolutionibus . New York: Springer, 1984.
As editor
  • Mathematical cuneiform texts 1–3 , sources and studies on the history of mathematics, astronomy and physics, Series A, 1935 to 1937.
  • with Richard-Anthony Parker : Egyptian Astronomical Texts. (EAT) 4 volumes, Brown University Press, Providence RI 1960 to 1972.
  • with Abraham Sachs : Mathematical Cuneiform Texts ( American Oriental Series ; Vol. 29). American Oriental Society, New Haven, Connecticut, 1986, ISBN 0-940490-29-3 (repr. Of New Haven 1945 edition).
  • Astronomical Cuneiform Texts (generally abbreviated as "ACT"), London 1956, 2nd edition Springer, New York 1983, ISBN 3-540-90812-9 (repr. Of the London 1956 edition)
    • Volume 1: Introduction. The moon.
    • Volume 2: The planets. Indices.
    • Volume 3: Plates .
  • The Astronomical Tables of al-Khwarizmi , Historiskfilosofiske Skrifter undgivet af Det Kongelige Danske Videnskabernes Selskab, Bind 4, no. 2. Copenhagen: Ejnar Munksgaard, 1962.
  • with David Pingree: The Pancasiddhantika of Varahamihira , Copenhagen 1970/71


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Neugebauer, Biographical / Historical note (accessed May 13, 2010).
  2. Otto Neugebauer in the Mathematics Genealogy Project (English) , doi : 10.1007 / 978-3-662-41277-0Template: MathGenealogyProject / Maintenance / id used Template: MathGenealogyProject / Maintenance / name used
  3. The Institute Letter, Spring 2010, p. 4 (pdf; 1.2 MB) (accessed on May 13, 2010)
  4. Book of Members 1780 – present, Chapter N. (PDF; 283 kB) In: American Academy of Arts and Sciences ( Accessed March 28, 2018 (English).
  5. Minor Planet Circ. 14632