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Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 7.4 (2006) 931-936

Omeljan Pritsak (1919–2006)
Edward L. Keenan
Harvard University
Dumbarton Oaks
3245 "S" St.,
Washington, DC 20007 USA

Colleagues, collaborators, and former students throughout the world and in a vast number of related fields will have noted with profound regret and vivid recollection the passing on 29 May 2006 of Omeljan Pritsak, the Mykhailo S. Hrushevs´kyi Professor of Ukrainian History, Emeritus, at Harvard University.

Omeljan Pritsak was a man of seemingly inexhaustible energy, broad erudition, and total dedication to scholarship in a broad range of fields. While he will probably be best remembered at Harvard and in the Ukrainian diaspora community as the co-founder and long-time director of Harvard's Ukrainian Research Institute, his energy, erudition, and scholarship also found expression in a prodigious output of scholarly work and institution-building in several countries and many scholarly fields. He was founder, editor, or an early stalwart of a number of periodical and monographic series, first in Germany, then in this country, and, ultimately, in his native Ukraine: the Ural-altaische Jahrbücher, which began in Wiesbaden in 1952 as a continuation of Ungarische Jahrbücher; 1 the Ural-altaische Bibliothek, 2 a continuation of Ungarische Bibliothek; the first (1959) volume of Philologiae Turcicae Fundamenta; 3 and Skhidnyi svit/The World of the Orient (Kiev, 1993–), continuing the earlier (1927–31) Skhidnyi svit, founded by his teacher Ahatanhel Iukhymovych Kryms´kyi (1871–1942). In 1977, Pritsak helped to launch Harvard Ukrainian Studies, which has become a leading journal in its field, and a number of other series. His prodigious range and productivity is only partially captured by the published bibliographies of his works. 4 The [End Page 931] task of completing his bibliography lies ahead, and may well be beyond the reach of any single colleague.

Pritsak was born on 7 April 1919 in Luka, in the Sambir region of Ukraine, and completed his secondary education at the Polish "First Gymnasium" of Ternopil´, where for some years he was the only Ukrainian student. His higher education, with a concentration in Ukrainian and, increasingly over time, Turkic history and philology, took place at the University of L´viv, at the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine in Kyiv, and, after World War II (during which he became first a Red Army soldier, then a prisoner of war, and ultimately an Ost-Arbeiter), at the Universities of Berlin and Göttingen, the latter of which awarded him a doctorate in 1948. 5

Having become professor of Turcology at the University of Hamburg, Pritsak was invited to visit Harvard University for the academic year 1960–61, and he moved to a permanent position at the University of Washington in 1961. He returned to Harvard as professor of linguistics and Turcology in 1964.

By the time of his arrival in Cambridge, Pritsak had already became an internationally recognized specialist in historical and comparative Turkic and Altaic linguistics and a leading authority on the history and culture of the Eurasian steppe. At Harvard, he resumed his early study of Ukrainian history and turned increasingly to the research and analysis of the Ukrainian past in its larger context, drawing on his training in the relevant oriental languages to flesh out that history with material previously underrepresented or unknown.

In 1967, Pritsak proposed the creation of a firm foundation for the development of Ukrainian studies in the West through the establishment of three endowed chairs (history, literature, philology) and a research institute at Harvard University. This project was accomplished thanks to the efforts of the Ukrainian Studies Fund, which raised the necessary funds within the North-American Ukrainian diaspora community. The Ukrainian Research Institute came into being in 1973, and Pritsak became its first director. In 1975, he was named to the new Hrushevs´kyi Chair in Ukrainian history, within Harvard's Department of History. He was instrumental in the organization of a weekly seminar series, in building up the Ukrainian library collections, and...


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