Department of Egyptology and Assyriology

Lecture Series

The department presents three lectures every academic year, each one named after a founding member of the Departments of Egyptology and History of Mathematics, which merged in 2006 to form the current Department of Egyptology & Assyriology: Richard Parker (Egyptology), Otto Neugebauer (History of Exact Science in Antiquity), and Abraham Sachs (Assyriology).

Richard Parker Lecture in Egyptology

  • 2017-2018: Ramadan Hussein, University of Tubingen, "Tending to the Dead: Rites, Texts and Embalming Workshop at Saqqara"
  • 2018-2019: Katherine Davis, University of Michigan,
  • 2022-2023: James P. Allen, Brown University, "Egyptology in Its Third Century"
  • 2023-2024: John Baines, University of Oxford, “Ancient Egyptian Decorum: more than just how to behave.”

Born in 1905, Richard Parker graduated from Dartmouth College and earned his PhD at the University of Chicago in 1938. A 1947 bequest in Charles Edwin Wilbour’s name created Brown University’s Department of Egyptology and the Charles Edwin Wilbour Professorship, given to Richard Parker in 1948 at the recommendation of History of Mathematics Professor Otto Neugebauer.

Accepting the job offer, Parker became the first Chair of the first Egyptology department in the United States. At the time of his acceptance, he was a founding trustee of the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) and field director of the University of Chicago’s permanent expedition at Luxor in the Nile Valley. In Parker’s summation, Egyptologists fall into two categories: archeologists (who deal with physical artifacts) and philologists (who decode language). Parker identified himself as an epigrapher, a philologist who records ancient inscriptions. His contributions to the field include significant work in the areas of Egyptian language, astronomy, and chronology (conceptions of time).

Parker wrote or collaborated on many books including the four-volume Egyptian Astronomical Texts with Otto Neugebauer. In a 1972 Dartmouth Alumni Magazine profile, Parker compared the study of the ancient world to a medical history: “It is just as important to know what man thought in the past, how he met crises, how he adapted, as it is for a doctor to know his patient’s health record. It gives us background against which to judge ourselves.” After his retirement in 1972, Parker maintained a rigorous research and publication practice. He passed away in 1993.

Otto Neugebauer Lecture in Exact Sciences

  • 2016-2017: Bill Mak, Kyoto University, "Transmission of Greco-Babylonian Planetary Science and Horoscopy in India and China"
  • 2017-2018: Mathieu Ossendrijver, Humboldt University, Berlin, "Chaldeans on the Nile: New Evidence for the Transmission of Babylonian Astronomy to Egypt"
  • 2018-2019: Alexander Jones, ISAW, New York University, ""Sexagesimal Mathematics in Babylonian and Greek mathematics and astronomy"
  • 2019-2020: Kim Plofker, Union College, 
  • 2022-2023: Annette Imhausen, Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt, “Don’t Limit the Past by the Present - Glimpses Into Ancient Egyptian Mathematics and its Historiography"
  • 2023-2024: Francesca Schironi, University of Michigan, "Scientific Times Call for Scientific Measure(ment)s: Hipparchus on Aratus, and Beyond"

Born in Innsbruck in 1899, Otto Neugebauer was a mathematician and historian of science who was known for his groundbreaking research on the history of astronomy and mathematics as they were practiced in antiquity and the Middle Ages. In 1933, Neugebauer took a principled stand and resigned from his position at the Mathematical Institute in Göttingen following the dismissal of his Jewish colleagues at the Institute. He left Germany and moved initially to the University of Copenhagen, where he spent the next six years until, in 1939, he moved to the United States where there was competition to hire him from Brown University and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Deciding Brown was better suited to his work, Neugebauer took up a position as Professor of Mathematics. In 1947, he was appointed founding chair of the newly created Department of History of Mathematics. Neugebauer remained chair of the department until his retirement in 1969. He remained an extremely active scholar until his death in 1990.

Abraham Sachs Lecture in Assyriology

  • 2016-2017: Chris Woods, University of Chicago, "Big Numbers in Babylonia: An Early Abacus in Comparative Perspective"
  • 2017-2018: Eva von Dassow, University of Minnesota, "The Hurro-Hittite Song of Liberation: Transmission, Translation, and Theology"
  • 2019-2020: Amanda Podany, California State Polytechnic University,
  • 2022-2023: Jana Mynářová, Charles University, Prague, “Peace, War, and Violence in the Ancient Near East"
  • 2023-2024: Céline Debourse, Harvard University, "Making Priest and Temple in Late Achaemenid and Hellenistic Babylon (484–60 BCE)"

After receiving his doctorate from Johns Hopkins University in 1939, Abraham Sachs worked on the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary at the University of Chicago, where a chance meeting with Otto Neugebauer led Sachs to Brown University in 1941. After two years at Brown as a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow, Sachs became one of the founding members of the History of Mathematics Department (instituted in 1943), eventually serving as its chair. Sachs collaborated on important contributions to the history of mathematics and astronomy, and, together with Albrecht Goetze, he founded the Journal of Cuneiform Studies in 1947. Sachs was a beloved teacher and respected colleague, and after his retirement he remained active at Brown as an adjunct professor until his untimely death in 1983.