Speaker’s Name: Professor Karen Parshall

Speaker’s Institution: The University of Virginia

Speaker Bio:

Karen Parshall is Professor of History and Mathematics at the University of Virginia, where she has served on the faculty since 1988.  Her research focuses primarily on the history of science and mathematics in America and in the history of 19th- and 20th-century algebra. In addition to exploring technical developments of algebra—the theory of algebras, group theory, algebraic invariant theory—she has worked on more thematic issues such as the development of national mathematical research communities (specifically in the United States and Great Britain) and the internationalization of mathematics in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her most recent book (co-authored with Victor Katz), Taming the Unknown: A History of Algebra from Antiquity to the Early Twentieth Century, will be published by Princeton University Press in June 2014.

Seminar Abstract:

The American mathematical research community experienced remarkable changes over the course of the three decades from 1920 to 1950. The first ten years witnessed the “corporatization” and “capitalization” of the American Mathematical Society, as mathematicians like Oswald Veblen and George Birkhoff worked to raise private, governmental, and foundation monies in support of research-level mathematics. The next decade, marked by the stock market crash and Depression, almost paradoxically witnessed the formation and building up of a number of strongly research-oriented departments across the nation at the same time that noted mathematical refugees were fleeing the ever-worsening political situation in Europe. Finally, the 1940s saw the mobilization of American research mathematicians in the war effort and their subsequent efforts to insure that pure mathematical research was supported as the Federal government began to open its coffers in the immediately postwar period. Ultimately, the story to be told here is a success story, but one of success in the face of many obstacles. At numerous points along the way, things could have turned out dramatically differently. This talk will explore those historical contingencies.

Seminar Convenors: Geoff PrinceJie Du

AGR Contacts: Tim Salmon (Maths helpdesk)

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