Schedule of Talks for the 1999-2000 Academic Year
Date:  Wednesday, September 29, 1999
Speaker: Prof. V. Frederick Rickey, 
Dept. of Mathematical Sciences, 
U.S. Military Academy (West Point)
Title: Mathematics at West Point: The first fifty years
Abstract: Mathematics has been a central part of the curriculum at the United States Military Academy since its founding in 1902. When Sylvanus Thayer became Superintendent in 1817, he reorganized the Academy using the Ecole Polytechnique as a model. He changed the way the cadets were taught as well as the textbooks they used. Now there was an emphasis on French textbooks. Gradually these were replaced by American texts, most notably those of West Point faculty members Charles Davies and Albert Church. Our purpose today will be to explore the changes that took place at West Point in its first half century.
Date:  Wednesday, October 27, 1999
Speaker: Prof. Harold M. Edwards, 
Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, 
New York University
Title: John Wallis, a precursor of Newton
Abstract: In the period just before Newton and Leibniz, many mathematicians were dealing with questions involving limits and infinites.  John Wallis's work "Arithmetica Infinitorum" contains an extraordinary argument involving infinites that gives, in a simple fashion, both "Wallis' formula" for pi as an infinite product and a value for the factorial of 1/2.  Newton himself stated that his first steps toward the binomial theorem for fractional exponents were inspired by this work of Wallis.
Date:  Wednesday, December 1, 1999
Speaker: Florence Fasanelli 
The Mathematical Association of America
Title: The History of 19th Century Mathematics and Its Influence on 20th Century Art
Abstract: Ideas discussed by artists in the late 19th Century about Riemann, Poincare, and other mathematicians' and mathematical practitioners' work resulted in changing directions in the use of color, perspective,and purpose in painting and sculpture in the 20th Century. This illustrated talk will discuss the importance of mathematics on art history.
Date:  Wednesday, February 2, 2000
Speaker: Prof. Thomas L. Drucker, 
Department of Philosophy, 
University of Wisconsin
Title: The Rising Tide of Rigor in the 19th Century
Abstract: Several factors were involved in the change in standards of rigor from the beginning to the end of the 19th century.  One was the close examination of results which needed to be corrected in the light of counterexamples.  Asecond was the changing market for mathematical methods, especially as the techniques of analysis were circulated to a wider audience.  Yet another was the possibility of formalization that was a consequence of the algebraicization of logic.  There is also the matter of the growing remoteness of the subject matter from the external world of experience. Comparison with other periods helps to bring out the distinctiveness of the combination of elements that turned mathematics from the rigging of science to the science of rigor.
Date:  Wednesday, March 1, 2000
Speaker: Prof. Jim Tattersall, 
Department of Mathematics, 
Providence College
Title: Mathematical Vignettes from Cambridge University 
Abstract: The Educational Times, a monthly periodical devoted to pedagogical interest, contained a section devoted to mathematical problems and their solutions. The periodical did more to encourage original mathematical research than any other European periodical in the late nineteenth century. We discuss the accomplishments of three ET problem solvers from Cambridge: Hertha Ayrton, an accomplished scientist and first women to have been nominated a Fellow in London's Royal Society, Charlotte Scott, first women to receive first class honors on the Cambridge Mathematical Tripos, and Philippa Fawcett who placed above the Senior Wrangler on the 1890 Tripos. Selected problems from The Educational Times and the 1880 and 1890 Mathematical Tripos exams will be included as well as a brief history of the Cambridge Mathematical Tripos.
Date:  Wednesday, April 5, 2000
Speaker: Prof. Eleanor Robson, 
The Oriental Institute, 
The University of Oxford
Title: Plimpton's tablets: a New York collector and the early history of
mathematical Assyriology
Abstract: George Plimpton, New York educational publisher, was an avid and serious collector of Americana and early textbooks. He and his academic collaborator, Prof. David Smith, amassed an unparalleled collection of European and American mathematical texts, culminating in the 1908 edition of the catalogue Rara Arithmetica. Just a few years earlier in Philadelphia, the Assyriologist Hermann Hilprecht had published the first ever study of mathematical cuneiform texts -- which dated back to over 3000 years before the oldest items in Plimpton's collection. He and Smith
naturally turned their attention to these objects but they proved rather more difficult to acquire than they had expected. This lecture traces their hunt for tablets across three continents and three decades, with the help and hindrance of British Museum curators, Turkish pashas and shady antiquities dealers.

The Plimpton and Smith tablets are now housed in Columbia University, New York. We can now assess the intellectual value of the collection and ask: was it worth the chase?

Date:  Wednesday, May 3, 2000
Speaker: Prof. David E. Zitarelli, 
Department of Mathematics 
Temple University
Title: Towering Figures in American Mathematics, 1890-1950
Abstract: During the period from 1890 to 1950 the American mathematical community evolved from being a virtual mathematical wasteland to the acclaimed leader in the world. This lecture visits developments over this time period by examining the roles played by some of the leading mathematical figures in the country. The principal figures mentioned include E. H. Moore, Oswald Veblen, G. D. Birkhoff, R. L. Moore, Norbert Wiener, and Marshall Stone.