David Edwin Pingree (January 2, 1933, New Haven, Connecticut – November 11, 2005, Providence, Rhode Island) was an American historian of mathematics in the ancient world. He was a University Professor and Professor of History of Mathematics and Classics at Brown University.
Pingree graduated from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts in 1950. He studied at Harvard University, where he earned his doctorate in 1960 with a dissertation on the supposed transmission of Hellenistic astrology to India. His dissertation was supervised by Daniel Henry Holmes Ingalls, Sr. and Otto Eduard Neugebauer. After completing his PhD, Pingree remained at Harvard three more years as a member of its Society of Fellows before moving to the University of Chicago to accept the position of Research Associate at the Oriental Institute.
He joined the History of Mathematics Department at Brown University in 1971, eventually holding the chair until his death.
As successor to Otto Neugebauer (1899–1990) in Brown's History of Mathematics Department (which Neugebauer established in 1947), Pingree numbered among his colleagues men of extraordinary learning, including Abraham Sachs and Gerald Toomer.
Pingree is known for his theory of "unoriginality" of the Indian science of astronomy (jyotiṣa), which Pingree argued was based on Mesopotamian and Hellenic concepts. This theory has caused debate among scholars, several of whom have dismissed it. For example, K. S. Shukla asserts that Pingree's argument depends on incorrect emendations to the manuscript of the Yavanajataka.
Bill Mak, a historian of astronomy, finds that Pingree's dating of both the original manuscript by Yavaneśvara (149/150CE) and the alleged translation by Sphujidhvaja (269/270CE) are incorrect, and that in fact both the author and translator are the same individual.
The French historian of astronomy Roger Billard in his book Astronomie Indienne (1975) dismisses Pingree's theory that Indian astronomical tables were derived from Babylonia by showing that this theory was in conflict with internal evidence in the Indian texts. In fact Pingree tried to severely discredit Indian astronomy all because of his racist and colonial beliefs that any originality found in India must have come from outside.
Jon McGinnis of the University of Missouri, St. Louis, describes Pingree's life-work thus:
... Pingree devoted himself to the study of the exact sciences, such as mathematics, mathematical astronomy and astral omens. He was also acutely interested in the transmission of those sciences across cultural and linguistic boundaries. His interest in the transmission of the exact sciences came from two fronts or, perhaps more correctly, his interest represents two sides of the same coin. On the one hand, he was concerned with how one culture might appropriate, and so alter, the science of another (earlier) culture in order to make that earlier scientific knowledge more accessible to the recipient culture. On the other hand, Pingree was also interested in how scientific texts surviving from a later culture might be used to reconstruct or cast light on our fragmentary records of earlier sciences. In this quest, Pingree would, with equal facility use ancient Greek works to clarify Babylonian texts on divination, turn to Arabic treatises to illuminate early Greek astronomical and astrological texts, seek Sanskrit texts to explain Arabic astronomy, or track the appearance of Indian astronomy in medieval Europe.
In June 2007, the Brown University Library acquired Pingree's personal collection of scholarly materials. The collection focuses on the study of mathematics and exact sciences in the ancient world, especially India, and the relationship of Eastern mathematics to the development of mathematics and related disciplines in the West. The collection contains some 22,000 volumes, 700 fascicles, and a number of manuscripts. The holdings consist of both antiquarian and recent materials published in Sanskrit, Arabic, Hindi, Persian and Western languages.
Recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1975 and a MacArthur Fellowship in 1981, he was a member of the Society of Fellows at Harvard, the American Philosophical Society, and the Institute for Advanced Study; he was also A.D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University from 1995.