The October Seminar on Iranian Studies In Honor of Dr. Christopher Brunner


Dr. Christopher Brunner

The second meeting of the 29th consecutive year of Columbia University Seminar on Iranian Studies for the academic year 2016-2017 was dedicated to the celebration of Dr. Christopher Brunner's many and varied contributions to the Encyclopædia Iranica, the study of pre-Islamic Iran and to digital humanities, by friends and colleagues. The seminar took place on Wednesday, October 5, 2016 at the Faculty House of Columbia University with the following speakers (the text of the first presentation is attached)

— Dr. Ahmad Ashraf, Columbia University, 
“Christopher Brunner and the Encyclopædia Iranica.”

— Dr. Homayoon Beigi, Adjunct Professor of Computer Science, Columbia University,
“Christopher Brunner and The Development of Iranica Online.”

—Dr. Prudence Harper, Curator Emerita in the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art,
“Christopher Brunner's contributions to the study of Sasanian silver vessels and seals.”

— Dr. W. W. Malandra, Professor Emeritus of Indo-Iranian Philology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis,
“Christopher Brunner the Iranist; and a note of tribute on Old Persian prdyd'm. 

The Text of Dr. Ashraf’s Presentation at
October 5, 2016 Seminar on Iranian Studies

Dr. Brunner’s scholarly and professional activities could be divided into three phases: First, from the mid 1960s to 1981, when he studied, taught, and wrote on pre-Islamic Iranian languages, religions and cultures and served as Sr. Assistant Editor of Iranica; Second, from 1979 to 2000, when he turned to software design, development, and management. Third, from 2003 to the present time, when he returned to Iranica as Associate editor and digital editor.

Dr. Brunner began his study of Iranian languages and cultures in the mid-1960s, when he worked on Persian language as his major at the University of Michigan and received his B.A. in 1966, "With High Distinction." His Ph.D., in 1971, was from the University of Pennsylvania, with Major in Old and Middle Iranian languages and Minor in Sanskrit. His studies there were interrupted in 1968-69 for a fruitful year at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

Dr. Brunner was hired to teach courses on languages, religions, and cultures of pre-Islamic Iran at Columbia University. From 1971 to 1973, these included broad surveys of the Indo-Iranian peoples from ancient to modern times, and of the diverse pre-Islamic religious history of the Iranians, as well as specialized work in Old Persian and Avestan, Middle Persian, Parthian, and Sogdian languages.

Dr. Brunner made his major contribution to Encyclopaedia Iranica when he served as Senior Assistant Editor from 1974 to 1981, during the formative period of the project. He worked together with the general editor, Prof. Yarshater, and the assistant editor, Manouchehr Kasheff, to define standards, write guidelines for contributors, and plan the original project budget and schedule. He and Mr. Kasheff compiled definitions of 30,000 potential article titles, and from these the original lists of target entries were distilled. He assigned work to translators and copy editors, typed and sent the invitations, and handled correspondence with contributors worldwide. He edited about 1,500 articles that would later appear in volumes I and II.

Other than his own articles for Iranica, various journal articles appeared during this interval—notably those done at the behest of Dr. Prudence Harper, who also made possible Dr. Brunner's publication of the Sasanian seals in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

During 1973-74, Dr. Brunner had conducted independent research in Afghanistan focusing on linguistics, numismatics, and literature of the "republican revolution" of Mohammad Daud Khan (then in progress). Back in New York, as chairman of the Pakistan and Afghanistan "country councils" of the Asia Society in the 1970s, he arranged lecture series and was a heavy contributor to the Afghanistan Council Newsletter, which, before the days of the Internet, was almost the only source available in the U.S. for current events in Afghanistan as reported in Afghan sources. A tie-in of Asia Society activity with pre-Islamic studies occurred in 1977-78, when Dr. Harper curated an exhibit there of Sasanian-period art. During 1975-76, at Columbia he tutored graduate students on the Pashto language. He continued part-time with the Encyclopœdia from late 1979 to late 1981.

During 1979 Dr. Brunner learned computer programming for IBM systems, and in November accepted an entry-level position on Wall Street, at a small division of Control Data Corporation that provided services to stock brokerage firms. He became a specialist in online securities order and execution transaction processing and reporting. During the next 21 years, he and his programming groups customized old applications and created new ones for client firms—first those of Control Data, then of a division of Automatic Data Processing, Inc., which bought their much smaller competitor. A particular gratifying moment was October 19, 1987, when the market crash overwhelmed many online brokerage systems, but not those of ADP. After safely managing the year-2000 software conversion, Dr. Brunner retired in January of that year.

The years 2000-2002 were still were busy. A certificate in teaching English as a second language was completed with a summer of teaching at the American University in Paris. Various stints in pro bono teaching in New York followed. His periodic travel to Japan (which had begun in 1995) continued.

It was with deep understanding of varied phases of activities of an academic encyclopœdia, elements of style, and personal and professional mastery of digital publishing that Dr. Brunner accepted Prof. Yarshater’s invitation to re-join the Encyclopœdia as Associate Editor and Senior Digital Publishing Supervisor in early 2003. The constant theme of the past 14 years has been article editing, with emphasis on clarity of form and content for a worldwide online audience, whose knowledge of English varies greatly but who share an interest in Iranian history and culture.

There have been distractions. In 2006-07, to meet new Apple Computer requirements, the ingenious EuroIranica ASCII font had to be abandoned. Fortunately, a good utility was available, which Dr. Brunner used to create the Iranica keyboard for typing Unicode fonts. The Encyclopœdia office converted smoothly. More difficult was the conversion of the online pdf text pages to html articles by Dr. Beigi, and then the conversion of these to Unicode by Dr. Beigi and Dr. Brunner, during 2007-09. The result was not perfect, but it made possible the website we enjoy today.

As he now turns to other challenges, Dr. Brunner looks forward to seeing the Encyclopœdia continue to grow and serve the great educational purpose that has inspired it from the beginning.