Remembering Denis Sinor
On January 12, 2011, the Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource, Indiana University, and the field of Central Eurasian studies lost a great scholar and colleague, Distinguished Professor Emeritus Denis Sinor. Professor Sinor came to Indiana University in 1962 as one of the world’s foremost scholars of Central Eurasia’s history and cultures. Within just a few years of arriving in Bloomington, he had transformed the landscape of the university, creating a new emphasis on the diverse lands, languages, and cultures of Eurasia.
Among Sinor’s many contributions to Indiana University and to the field of Eurasian studies was the creation of the Uralic and Altaic Language and Area Center in 1962. Under his leadership, the Center grew to become, in 1981, the Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center.
Professor Sinor was born in Hungary in 1916 and educated in Hungary, Switzerland and France. He served in the French army during World War II and participated in French Resistance efforts, all while carrying out research and teaching at academic institutions in France. Before coming to Bloomington, he taught in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Cambridge University for 14 years.
At Indiana University Sinor founded the Department of Uralic and Altaic Studies (now the Department of Central Eurasian Studies) in 1965 and the Asian Studies Research Institute in 1967 (now the Sinor Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies), both of which he directed. Professor Sinor was named a member of the IU President’s Circle in 2005.
Sinor’s body of work—which includes eight authored books, 13 edited books, and over 160 articles—has received numerous recognitions, including major prizes and awards from the Government of Hungary, the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, UNESCO, as well as universities, research institutions and academies of science throughout the world.
Dr. Edward Lazzerini, Director of the IAUNRC, said of Sinor, “Denis Sinor was “‘old school,’ a scholar and gentleman with decidedly European bearing and values rooted more in the 19th than 20th centuries. Yet he was able to make his way successfully in more modern times, thereby bequeathing a legacy that will continue to inspire those who knew him and those who will only have heard of him.”
On March 4, Indiana University held a memorial service in Sinor’s honor. Current and former university administrators, colleagues and former students of Sinor, and representatives of the Hungarian and Hungarian-American communities shared memories of Sinor’s engaged scholarship, friendship and sharp wit.
András Bácsi-Nagy, Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of Hungary to the United States, conveyed the condolences of Hugnary’s Foreign Minister. “We want to express our deep sorrow at the loss of Denis Sinor,” he said, “but we also want to express our nation’s pride in our outstanding son.”
Vice President for International Affairs Patrick O’Meara spoke of the continued impact of Sinor’s work and commitment to the university. “Denis transformed Indiana University; his effect has been spectacular and lasting,” he commented.
President Emeritus of Indiana University John W. Ryan recalled the earliest days of cooperation between IU and the government of Hungary and Sinor’s role in the establishment of the Hungarian studies chair over an interrupted Thanksgiving dinner.
Dr. Barbara Kellner-Heinkele, Secretary-General of the Permanent International Altaistic Conference, concluded her remarks by discussing Sinor’s more adventurous side, such as his travels to the North Pole in 2004, at the age of 88.
“I like to think that now he is on a motorbike ride to the splendid horizons on which he kept his eye,” she remarked.