Awarding of Academy Prizes and Honors

by Robert Halleux, Permanent Secretary a.i

Point n°2 of the General Assembly (Septembre 15, 2023)

This point includes the awarding of the Alexandre Koyré Medal and the Young Historians Prize.

1 : Alexandre Koyré Medal

Dear Colleagues,

The Alexandre Koyré Medal is awarded every two years by the Council. It crowns not a book, but the work of a lifetime. The last two holders were Professors Robert Fox and Liu Dun. In its meeting of December 18, 2021, the Council unanimously awarded the Koyré 2021 medal to Professor Christine Fili.

My dear Christine,
In these troubled times, the distinction that I am going to present to you on behalf of the Academy has not failed to cause a stir. Virtuous people have questioned, not your file which is impressive, but your union with our venerable President, Sergey Demidov, isolated in Moscow at this time and very surprised to hear the news. Aggravating circumstance, he is a Russian citizen and proud of it.
But let’s leave the little people to their little thoughts. As Chateaubriand said: “One must be economical with one’s contempt, given the great number of the needy” (« Il faut être avare de son mépris, il y a trop de nécessiteux »).

For me, it is with particular joy that I defy those in whom principles take the place of intelligence and heart. Because today it is a question of honoring a great scholar, an aristocrat of science and, through her, a generation that is passing away.

As a scholar, you are part of the great tradition of polymathy, where the unity of method transcends the diversity of periods and subjects. Your state thesis, in 1988, on The theory of analytical functions in Lagrange, opened up the history of mathematics in the 19th century to you but, on the advice of our master René Taton, you undertook a monumental work on the history of mathematics and of the teaching of mathematics in Ottoman and independent Greece: a period of which little was known, for which your pioneering work was crowned by the Academy of Athens. Thanks to you, Methodios Anthrakitis, the School of Johannina, the great Karatheodory have come out of oblivion and have obtained the place they deserve in the history of science. Through them, you have explored the entire European mathematical community, always based on original sources and archives, combining the double rigor of mathematics and historical criticism.
But in Greece how not to speak of our dear Ancients? You immersed yourself with the same happiness in Heron of Alexandria, Diophantus, Theodorus Gaza.
And what people don’t know, is that you have carried out intrepid research on mathematics and literature, on Queneau and the Oulipians, and that you yourself are a delicate poetess.

An aristocrat of science: our colleagues will be delighted that you are the third woman to obtain the Koyré medal, after Galina Matvievskaia and Brigitte Hoppe. But you are from another time and another style, an aristocrat of science through your family traditions, your language skills, your cosmopolitanism and, to be honest, your rare elegance. I will not betray a secret by saying that, stricken by illness and many other embarrassments, you heroically saved face and maintained your worldly life and the generosity of your invitations and your thousand little attentions. And since the regulations prohibit awarding the medal to members of the Council in office, please share this honor with your lifelong companion, our President Sergey Demidov, my brother and my friend, also a man of tradition, knowledge and duty, heir to the great Soviet school of historians of science.

But I would finally like, through you, to pay tribute to a generation that is passing away: our generation. Juliette Gréco sang « les feuilles mortes se ramassent à la pelle / Les souvenirs et les regrets aussi ». Do you remember, Christine, the Thursdays at the Centre Koyré around the large table and our discussions on the 21 bus which brought us back, you to Avenue Reille, me to Boulevard Jourdan, while the leaves swirled on Parc Montsouris? Do you remember all our companions who are no longer there? Coming from all continents and all countries, we were the heirs of the Republic of Letters and our common motto was respect for our masters, respect for the document, scientific accuracy, humility and mutual esteem.

In the midst of the Cold War, our masters Taton, Costabel, Youchkevitch and Grigorian, gathered around major common projects such as Euler’s correspondence, knew that if humans pass away, the works remain forever, as Thucydides said.
Our generation is leaving. May our successors know that there are precepts which cannot be transgressed with impunity.

2 : Young Historians Prize

The prize is awarded, like the Koyré Medal, every two years. It crowns the first published or unpublished book by a novice historian of science. The allocation procedure is traditionally empirical. The work is proposed to the Council by a member and is the subject of a report by another member.

For 2021, two works are crowned:

Petros Bouras-Vallianatos, Innovation in Byzantine Medicine. The Writings of John Zacharias Aktouarios (c.1275-1330), Oxford UP 2020, proposed by Matteo Martelli and appraised by Robert Halleux.

Anna Jerratsch, Der frühneuzeitliche Kometen-diskurs im Spiegel deutschsprachiger Flugschriften, Wiesbaden, Steiner, 2020, proposed by Eberhard Knobloch and appraised by Chantal Grell.