# Parshall, Karen Hunger 1955- (Karen Virginia Hunger)

# Parshall, Karen Hunger 1955- (Karen Virginia Hunger)

## PERSONAL:

Born July 7, 1955, in Virginia Beach, VA; daughter of Maurice Jacques and Jean Kay Hunger; married Brian J. Parshall, August 6, 1978. *Education:* University of Virginia, B.A., 1977; M.S. 1978; University of Chicago, Ph.D. 1982.

## ADDRESSES:

*Office—*University of Virginia, Departments of Math and History, Department of Mathematics, P.O. Box 400137, Charlottesville, VA 22904. *E-mail—*[email protected].

## CAREER:

Mathematician, educator, and writer. Sweet Briar College, Sweet Briar, VA, assistant professor of mathematics, 1982-87; University of Illinois, Urbana, assistant professor of mathematics, 1987-88; Univer- sity of Virginia, Charlottesville, assistant professor, 1988-1993, associate professor, 1993-99; professor of mathematics and history, 1999—.

## MEMBER:

American Mathematical Society, History of Science Society, Académie Internationale d'histoire des sciences, International Commission on the History of Mathematics (chair), Phi Beta Kappa.

## AWARDS, HONORS:

Scholarship awards from the National Science Foundation 1986-87, 1990-93; Visiting Professorships for Women (VPW) award, National Science Foundation, 1996-97; John Simon Guggenheim Foundation fellow, 1996.

## WRITINGS:

(With David E. Rowe) *The Emergence of the American Mathematical Research Community, 1876-1900: J.J. Sylvester, Felix Klein, and E.H. Moore,* American Mathematical Society (Providence, RI), 1994.

(Editor, with Paul H. Theerman) *Experiencing Nature: Proceedings of a Conference in Honor of Allen G. Debus,* Kluwer Academic Publishers (Boston, MA), 1997.

*James Joseph Sylvester: Life and Work in Letters,* Clarendon (Oxford, England), 1998.

(Editor, with Adrian C. Rice) *Mathematics Unbound: The Evolution of an International Mathematical Research Community, 1800-1945,* American Mathematical Society (Providence, RI), 2002.

*James Joseph Sylvester: Jewish Mathematician in a Victorian World,* Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 2006.

(Editor, with Jeremy J. Gray) *Episodes in the History of Modern Algebra (1800-1950),* American Mathematical Society (Providence, RI), 2007.

Contributor to professional journals, including *History of Science, Journal of the History of Biology, Archives internationales d'histoire des sciences, Annals of Science, Historia Mathematica, Notices of the American Mathematical Society, American Mathematics Monthly,* and *Revue d'histoire des mathématiques.* "Years Ago" editor for *Mathematical Intelligencer,* New York, NY, 1990-93; book review editor for *Historia Mathematica,* San Diego, CA, 1990-93, managing editor, 1994-95, editor, 1996-99.

## SIDELIGHTS:

Karen Hunger Parshall is a mathematician and educator who has an interest in the history of science and mathematics in America and the history of nineteenth- and twentieth-century algebra. She has researched and written about the life, times, and mathematical work of the British mathematician James Joseph Sylvester, including the books *James Joseph Sylvester: Life and Work in Letters* and *James Joseph Sylvester: Jewish Mathematician in a Victorian World.*

James Joseph Sylvester was a nineteenth-century mathematician who made seminal contributions to areas of mathematics, including contributions to the matrix theory, number theory, and cominatorics. He also played a major role in American mathematics when he became a professor at Johns Hopkins University, where he helped establish the *American Journal of Mathematics.* In *James Joseph Sylvester: Life and Work in Letters,* the author provides a look at Sylvester's life and thoughts through 140 letters, which she culled from 1,200 letters written by both Sylvester and those within his circle of colleagues and friends. (Overall, it is estimated that Sylvester wrote a hundred thousand letters in the last four decades of his life.) The letters used in Parshall's book date from 1837 to 1896.

"When he was at his most creative mathematically, so too was he most expansive with his pen," wrote June Barrow-Green in a review of *James Joseph Sylvester: Life and Work in Letters* on *MAA Online.* "And this characteristic is mirrored in the structure of the book with individual chapters reflecting specific phases in his career as opposed to different decades of his life." Overall, the book features letters with thirty-two people with whom Sylvester corresponded, with the vast bulk coming from fellow mathematician Arthur Cayley, a leader of the British school of pure mathematics.

In *James Joseph Sylvester: Jewish Mathematician in a Victorian World,* Parshall builds on her previous book about Sylvester to provide an overall biography of the mathematician. In addition to chronicling his achievements in mathematics, which included writing 1,200 pages of journal articles, the author also recounts how Sylvester faced prejudice and was denied career opportunities because he was Jewish and refused to renounce his Jewish faith. According to Parshall, Sylvester became keenly aware at a young age of the obstacles he would face due to his Jewish heritage and struggled to receive academic appointments throughout most of his early career. She also delves into Sylvester's eccentricities and outspokenness. For example, his first time working in America at the University of Virginia in 1840 was initially seen as a plum appointment by Sylvester, who was greeted at the university as a British don of great renown. However, his stay was cut short as he antagonized both students and faculty with his antislavery views, which he voiced openly.

Once again, Sylvester faced bleak academic prospects back in England, and Parshall recounts how he became an actuary and then studied for the bar. After many years working as a lawyer in business while collaborating with noted British mathematician Cayley, Sylvester received an academic appointment in which he was not required to swear allegiance to the Christian faith. The author follows Sylvester through his forced retirement from this position and on to his important contributions to mathematics in America following his appointment to Johns Hopkins University in 1877 and then his final validation with an appointment as the Savilian professorship of geometry at Oxford University when he was seventy years old. "Parshall turns over the political and religious soils that alternately starved and nourished Sylvester's work. Mathematics fertilizes her account, but she distributes it sparingly," wrote Daniel S. Silver in the *American Scientist.* "What grows is a rich story of a stubborn genius willing to fight the world so that he might bestow his gifts."

Parshall is also the editor, with Jeremy J. Gray, of *Episodes in the History of Modern Algebra (1800-1950).* The book presents thirteen papers stemming from a 2003 workshop in Berkeley, California. In these papers, various scholars look at the history of "modern algebra" stemming back to the early nineteenth century.

## BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

### PERIODICALS

*American Scientist,* November 1, 2006, Daniel S. Silver, "The Secret History of Mathematicians," review of *James Joseph Sylvester: Jewish Mathematician in a Victorian World,* p. 556.

*Bulletin, New Series, of the American Mathematical Society,* January, 2001, Uta C. Merzbach, review of *James Joseph Sylvester: Life and Work in Letters,* p. 79.

*Choice,* October, 1999, J. Johnson, review of *James Joseph Sylvester: Life and Work in Letters,* p. 366; July, 2007, D.V. Feldman, review of *James Joseph Sylvester: Jewish Mathematician in a Victorian World,* p. 1932.

*College Mathematics Journal,* May, 1998, Daniel E. Otero, review of *The Emergence of the American Mathematical Research Community, 1876-1900: J.J. Sylvester, Felix Klein, and E.H. Moore,* p. 254.

*Isis,* March, 1996, I. Grattan-Guinness, review of *The Emergence of the American Mathematical Research Community, 1876-1900,* p. 187; June, 2000, Loren Butler Feffer, review of *James Joseph Sylvester: Life and Work in Letters,* p. 369; September, 2005, Eisso J. Atzema, review of *Mathematics Unbound: The Evolution of an International Mathematical Research Community, 1800-1945,* p. 451; September, 2007, Francine F. Abeles, review of *James Joseph Sylvester: Jewish Mathematician in a Victorian World,* p. 641.

*SciTech Book News,* March, 1995, review of *The Emergence of the American Mathematical Research Community, 1876-1900,* p. 6; September, 2002, review of *Mathematics Unbound,* p. 14; June, 2006, review of *James Joseph Sylvester: Jewish Mathematician in a Victorian World;* December, 2007, review of *Episodes in the History of Modern Algebra (1800-1950).*

*Times Higher Education Supplement,* March 9, 2007, James Neumann, "An Odd Pair with a Passion for All Things Pure," review of *James Joseph Sylvester: Jewish Mathematician in a Victorian World,* p. 22.

### ONLINE

*MAA Online,*http://www.maa.org/ (February 23, 2008), June Barrow-Green, "Read This!," review of *James Joseph Sylvester: Life and Work in Letters.*

*University of Virginia Math Department Web site,*http://www.math.virginia.edu/ (February 23, 2008), faculty profile of author.

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