Videnskabshistorisk Selskab

Tom ArchibaldProfessor Tom Archibald,

Department of Mathematics, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada:

Making a Discipline? Toolkits in Applied Mathematics, 1900–1930

Today the field of applied mathematics has something resembling a disciplinary structure, in particular as regards a body of more or less canonical knowledge that is learned by future practicitioners and that is applied to unsolved problems recognized (by some at least) as being both proper to the domain and at its frontier in some sense. In the early years of the twentieth century the field was much less clearly defined: Oswald Veblen, in a famous remark, stated that the existence of applied mathematics was a British illusion. In this paper we consider some examples of textbooks in a variety of subfields, attempting to determine to what extent these illustrate the emergence of a common toolkit, or set of toolkits, to be transmitted to practitioners and to those in neighbouring fields, notably engineering and physics. We will concentrate on Veblen's British illusion, referring to extremely well-known works by Love, Lamb, and Whittaker, examining their sources, audiences and influence in Britain and beyond. We shall see that while the constitutive components of today discipline – analysis, scientific computing, and modelling – are certainly present, they are conceived differently from today, a situation that poses a rich set of historical questions.

tirsdag, den 14. maj 2013, kl. 17.00

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