Neuenschwander prize – 2024: Karine Chemla

The Council of the ESHS is delighted to announce that Karine Chemla has been awarded the Gustav Neuenschwander Prize for 2024.

The ESHS Council recognizes Professor Chemla’s path-breaking, wide-ranging, and stimulating scholarship that has inspired generations of historians of science across the world to this day.

Following the GN Prize award ceremony, Professor Chemla will deliver a plenary address at the ESHS Barcelona 2024 Conference.

Karine Chemla’s nomination highlighted:

Her study of mathematical cultures in ancient and medieval China from a global comparative perspective.

Her work on the concept of generality in nineteenth-century mathematics.

The cultural significance of her approach in current scholarly efforts to reinterpret the birth of the modern world and the history of Euro-Asian relations.

Her theoretical research program on the history of science, which includes coordinating several collective volumes and research programs focused on epistemological cultures, scientific practices (notably textual practices), reasoning styles, and related concepts.

Her tireless efforts to promote an open, collaborative and international approach against some tendencies of some countries to weaponize our disciplines to rewrite their history and promote nationalistic views.

Karine Chemla’s academic bio

Karine Chemla, born in 1957, pursued her mathematics studies at the École Normale Supérieure de Jeunes Filles from 1976 to 1982. In 1980, she received a scholarship from the Singer-Polignac Foundation, enabling her to spend a year abroad exploring a field distinct from her primary research area. For her project titled “Science and Culture,” she chose to travel to China. Following a self-directed Chinese language program, she was admitted as a student in the history of mathematics at the Institute for the History of Natural Sciences (Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing) from April to October 1981. She earned her PhD in mathematics in October 1982, with a thesis on the 13th-century Chinese treatise “Sea-Mirror of the Circle-Measurements,” and subsequently joined the mathematics department at CNRS. Currently, she serves as a Senior Researcher Emerita at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in the SPHERE laboratory (CNRS & University Paris Cité).

Prof. Chemla has held fellowships at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (1994-1995) and the Dibner Institute (2006). In 2020-2021, she was the Matina S. Horner Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Radcliffe Institute, Cambridge (Mass.). She has been invited several times to the Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte and the Institute for the History of Natural Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences. She holds guest professorships at Northwest University, Xi’an (2005-), Jiaotong University, Shanghai (2010-), Hebei Normal University (2010-2013), and was awarded the “Chinese Academy of Sciences Visiting Professorship for Senior Foreign Scientists” in 2009. From 2011 to 2016, Chemla led the ERC Advanced Research Grant “Mathematical Sciences in the Ancient Worlds” (SAW), in collaboration with A. Keller and C. Proust. In 2024, she was awarded a Global Professorship of the British Academy, on the project “Rethinking the history of mathematical symbolism”, which she will develop at the School of mathematics of the University of Edinburgh.

Chemla’s research focuses on the history of mathematics in ancient China within the framework of world history, as well as the history of mathematics in 18th and 19th century Europe. She examines the relationships between mathematics and the various cultures in the context of which it is practiced and cultivated from a historical anthropology perspective. Together with Guo Shuchun, she authored Les Neuf Chapitres (Dunod, 2004), which received the Hirayama Prize from the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres in 2006. Chemla has also been honored with the Prize Binoux from the Académie des Sciences (2006), the CNRS Silver Medal (2008), the Otto Neugebauer Prize from the European Mathematical Society (2020), and the Hirst Prize from the London Mathematical Society and British Society for the History of Mathematics (2021). She is a member of the Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina (2005), the Academia Europaea (2013), the American Philosophical Society (2019), the European Academy of Sciences (2020), the World Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Académie des Sciences, Belles-Lettres et Arts de Lyon (2023). In 2019, she was awarded an honorary doctorate from Vrije Universiteit Brussel.

She has edited several influential works, including The History of Mathematical Proof in Ancient Traditions (Cambridge University Press, 2012), Texts, Textual Acts and the History of Science (with J. Virbel, 2015), The Oxford Handbook of Generality in Mathematics and the Sciences (with R. Chorlay and D. Rabouin, 2016), Cultures without Culturalism: The Making of Scientific Knowledge (with E. Fox Keller, 2017), Mathematical Commentaries in the Ancient World: A Global Perspective (with G. Most, 2022), Cultures of Computation and Quantification in the Ancient World: Numbers, Measurements, and Operations in Documents from Mesopotamia, China, and South Asia (with A. Keller and C. Proust, 2022), and Shaping the Sciences of the Ancient and Medieval World: Textual Criticism, Critical Editions and Translations of Scholarly Texts in History (with A. Keller, Springer, 2024).