Denis Sinor was an esteemed professor at Indiana University for over four decades. His work in the field of Central Eurasia shaped the way academics view the topic and area today. Sinor was born in Hungary on April 17, 1916, and was educated in Hungary, Switzerland, and France. Sinor was very active in the political scene in his youth, and during World War II, he served in the French Army as a member of the French Resistance. After his time in the military, he decided to enter the world of academia and after obtaining his MA in Oriental Studies at Cambridge University, he was appointed to its faculty.
In 1962, Sinor came to the United States as a visiting professor at Indiana University. His active professional life at Cambridge University surely influenced IU’s interest in him, as he wrote more than one hundred articles and reviews on the linguistics and histories of Inner Asia.
Defining Central Eurasia
Soon after joining IU’s faculty, Sinor was appointed to the head of the Uralic and Altaic program (later renamed the Central Eurasian Studies program [CEUS]). He served as the Chair for this program from 1963-1981, but continued to hold other important administrative positions as well as teaching and along the way, securing the title of Distinguished Professor, one of greatest honors IU bestows upon faculty, in 1975.
In 1963, Sinor created the National Defense Education Uralic and Altaic Language and Area Center (later renamed the Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center [IAUNRC]) and served as the Director from 1963-1988. From 1965 to 1967, Sinor was the Chairman for the Asian Studies Research Institute (later named the Sinor Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies [SRIFIAS] in 2006). His work with these research centers, as well as the considerable amount of written work he produced, helped define the term “Central Eurasia” for the academic world.
Professor Sinor also focused his considerable energy to professional service. He served as the editor of the Journal of Asian History (JAH) from its inception in 1967 until 2011. The JAH studies the regions of East, South, South-East and Central Asia before 1900. At IU, Sinor edited the Uralic and Altaic Series (over 174 volumes) and the Oriental Series. Sinor was a major force in the establishment of the Permanent International Altaistic Conference’s (PIAC) headquarters in Bloomington in 1962, for which he served as Secretary-General for numerous terms.
Throughout his lifetime, Sinor traveled extensively in Asia, including Afghanistan, Chinese Turkestan, Soviet Central Asia, Northern Pakistan, Siberia, and Inner and Outer Mongolia. He received many honors within and outside of the United States from groups such as the American Oriental Society, the Oriental Institute of the Russian Academy of Science, and was the twice holder of a Guggenheim Fellowship (1968, 1981).
Professor Denis Sinor passed away on January 12, 2011. Through the gift of his papers to the University Archives, his teaching mission can continue. Those interested in learning more about Professor Sinor, his life and his professional activities, should feel free to contact the Indiana University Archives for assistance!