With deep regret, the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute announces the passing on 29 May 2006 of Omeljan Pritsak, Mykhailo Hrushevsky Professor of Ukrainian History, Emeritus, and co-founder and long-time director of the Ukrainian Research Institute.
Born on 7 April 1919 in Luka, Sambir region, Ukraine, Omeljan Pritsak completed his secondary education in Ternopil. His higher education, with a concentration in Ukrainian and also, increasingly over time, Turkic history and philology, took place at the University of Lviv, the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine in Kyiv, and the Universities of Berlin and Gottingen, from which he received his doctorate in 1948.
A professor of Turkology at the University of Hamburg, Pritsak was invited to Harvard University in 1960 and the University of Washington in 1961. He permanently joined the Harvard faculty as professor of linguistics and Turkology in 1964.
From early in his career, Pritsak became an internationally recognized scholar in historical and comparative Turkic and Altaic linguistics, and a leading authority on the history and culture of the Eurasian Steppe. At Harvard University, Pritsak resumed his early study of Ukrainian history and turned increasingly to the research and analysis of the Ukrainian past in context, drawing on his impressive linguistic talents in Central and East Asian 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 Ukrainian diaspora community. The Ukrainian Research Institute came into being in 1973 with Pritsak as its first director. In 1975, he was given the Hrushevsky Chair in Ukrainian history. In 1977, Pritsak helped to launch the journal Harvard Ukrainian Studies. He was instrumental in the organization of a weekly seminar series, building up the Ukrainian library collections, and in developing new series of publications that made primary texts, facsimile editions, and translations of important works of the Ukrainian past available to scholars worldwide.
Through his inspired teaching and energetic example, Pritsak helped to train and influence many generations of students, who have gone on to fill important academic positions in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia. A scholar of enormous erudition, Pritsak produced a bibliography of over 500 entries.
When he retired in 1989, Pritsak became increasingly involved in the revival of academic studies in Ukraine itself. He was elected the first foreign member of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. He revived the Institute of Oriental Studies in Kyiv, introducing new programs in that field and many other neglected areas of historical scholarship on the university level.
Omeljan Pritsak is survived by his wife Larysa Hvozdik Pritsak, his daughter Irene Pritsak by his late first wife Nina Moldenhauer Pritsak, and two grandchildren Lailina Eberhard and Michael Wissoff.
A wake will be held at Brady and Fallon Funeral Home, 10 Tower Street, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, on Thursday, June 1, at 7:30 p.m. The funeral will take place at the Ukrainian Catholic Church of Christ the King, 146 Forest Hills Street, Jamaica Plain, on Friday, June 2, at 10:00 a.m. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to be made to the publications fund of the Ukrainian Research Institute. Checks should be made out to the Ukrainian Studies Fund, 1583 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138. (When making out checks, kindly indicate on the memo line that the donation is in memory of Omeljan Pritsak.)
A memorial service for Omeljan Pritsak, and a celebration of his life and scholarly achievements, is planned by the Ukrainian Research Institute to take place at Harvard University in the fall of 2006.