Commission on the History of Mathematics

(From the Bulletin of the Internation Mathematical Union No. 38, December 1994)

Report for 1994 of the
International Commission on the History of Mathematics (ICHM)

Report prepared by Prof. J. Dauben

General History of the ICHM:

The International Commission on the History of Mathematics was established by Kenneth O. May (University of Toronto) in 1969 as a companion to the journal he also started as founding editor at virtually the same time, Historia Mathematica. Realizing that the journal could only prosper with truly international support, the Commission was the vehicle through which May launched the journal. Subsequently the Commission has provided a stimulus to serious study of the history of mathematics in virtually all parts of the world (for a brief History of the ICHM, see the notice at the end of this block of information concerning the Commission). The Commission not only organizes and cosponsors international meetings intended to promote both research and teaching of the history of mathematics, but it has undertaken (and currently oversees) a number of special projects as described below.

Organizational Structure and Current Officers:

The ICHM is a joint Commission of the International Mathematical Union and the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science. It receives annual financial support from the IUHPS to help defray administrative expenses, and occasional support from both the IMU and the IUHPS in support of international meetings and special projects. The Commission consists of an Executive Committee elected every four years by its members throughout the world (with two positions appointed every four years by the IMU). As of January, 1995, the Executive Committee is comprised of the following individuals:

Eberhard Knobloch (Germany)

Kirsti Andersen (Denmark)

Jeanne Peiffer (Luxembourg)

Menso Folkerts (Germany)

Ubiratan d'Ambrosio (Brazil)
John Fauvel (England)
Giorgio Israel (Italy)
Liu Dun (China)
Chikara Sasaki (Japan)
Evgeny A. Zaitsev (Russia)

IMU members
Karen Parshall (USA)
Laura Toti Rigatelli (Italy)

Christoph J. Scriba (Germany)
Joseph W. Dauben (USA)
David Rowe (Germany/USA), Editor

Current and On-Going Projects:

Historia Mathematica

The major undertaking of the ICHM is the production of its quarterly journal, Historia Mathematica, published by Academic Press (San Diego, CA, USA). The journal publishes scholarly research on the history of the mathematical sciences in all periods and cultures. Currently responsible for its content are:

  • David Rowe (Mainz, Germany), Editor
  • Karen Parshall (Charlottesville, VA, USA), Managing Editor
  • Catherine Goldstein (Orsay, France), Book Review Editor
  • Paul Wolfson (West Chester, PA, USA), Book Review Editor
  • David Zitarelli (Philadelphia, PA, USA), Abstracts Editor

The ICHM World Directory

Periodically, the Commission publishes a World Directory of Historians of Mathematics. Work on a new edition is underway for release later in 1995. This edition will include more than 1000 names and addresses with complete institutional affiliation, telephone, e-mail and FAX numbers (as available). Professor Kirsti Andersen, History of Science Department, University of Aarhus, Ny Munkegade DK-8000 Aarhus, Denmark. E-Mail:

ICHM Data Base

In conjunction with the new World Directory, the International Commission is also compiling a database containing information about historians of mathematics around the world. This will include both biographical and bibliographic information, as well as photographs (see details of the photo archive project, below) for individual historians of mathematics (to constitute, eventually, a sort of Poggendorff for the history of mathematics).

Photo Archive

The ICHM has recently entered into a tentative agreement with the Karl-Sudhoff-Institut at Leipzig University, to begin work on an ICHM catalogue of photographs of mathematicians, to complement the collections already housed, for example, at the Mathematisches Forschungsinstitut in Oberwolfach, Germany, and at the Institut Mittag-Leffler, Djursholm, Sweden. The photo archive includes negatives, prints and slides, along with a projected database of known pictures, to include brief descriptions of each representation, its provenance and availability. Anyone with photographs to contribute to the photo archive, or wishing more information about the project as it exists for now in Leipzig, should contact: Hans-Joachim Ilgauds, Karl-Sudhoff-Institute, Universität Leipzig, Augustusplatz 9, D-04109 Leipzig, Germany

Historiography Project

The Commission is in the last stages of completing a final draft of a major cooperative effort: Historiography of the History of Mathematics. At present, nearly forty colleagues from all parts of the world are collaborating to describe the history of the history of mathematics from the first historical writings on mathematics by the ancient Greeks and Chinese, to the present. It is hoped that this work will be ready for publication before the end of 1996. Anyone interested in further information about this project may contact either Christoph J. Scriba at the address given above, or: Joseph W. Dauben, Ph.D. Program in History, The Graduate Center, CUNY, 33 West 42nd Street, New York, NY 10036 USA, FAX: 212-642-1963, E-Mail:

ICHM Dictionary on the History of Mathematics

A Dictionary project edited by John Fauvel (Open University, Milton Keynes, UK) continues to progress. It is to be published by Oxford University Press, probably in the Oxford Companion series, i.e. as a Companion to the History of Mathematics. There are still unallocated entries for which help would be very much appreciated. Anyone interested in the progress of the project or in participating by writing entries should contact: John Fauvel, Mathematics Faculty, The Open University, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA England

World Mathematical Year 2000

The International Mathematical Union has declared the year 2000 as World Mathematical Year. The first aim of WMY 2,000 is to consider the great challenges of the 21st century. In conjunction with the International Congress of Mathematicians held in Zurich in 1994, the Commission organized an historical symposium which surveyed the history of International Congresses from Zürich to Zürich, looking ahead to the first century of the next millennium.

A significant aim of WMY 2000 is to consider "Mathematics, Keys for Development." Here the International Commission on the History of Mathematics plans to support various projects and possible international meetings at which the connections between pure and applied mathematics, in particular, may be explored in their historical context, especially in countries that are not currently members of the IMU (another of the goals emphasized by WMY 2,000). The question of increasing the availability and exchange of information related to the history of mathematics among colleagues everywhere, including schools, colleges, universities, research institutes, etc., is a continuing concern of the Commission in connection with its own international activities.

The Commission hopes to contribute substantially as well to yet another aim of WMY 2000, namely to the image of mathematics. One way to account for the systematic presence of mathematics in the information society (another interest of WMY 2,000) is through the history of mathematics, which can effectively demonstrate the significance of mathematics in cross-cultural ways in the widest possible variety of contexts. Again, local meetings, international symposia, special exhibitions and long-range publication efforts can all help to achieve the goal of creating a higher public awareness of mathematics and the crucial role it has played in world history.

Recent International Meetings

  • XIXth International Congress for the History of Science, Zaragoza, Spain (August, 1993):
  • ICHM symposia sponsored during the Congress
  • Historiography of History of Mathematics (4 sessions) , (Organized by Joseph Dauben and Christoph Scriba)
  • Mathematics in Asia (3 sessions), (Organized by Karine Chemla, Liu Dun, and Chikara Sasaki)
  • Arts and Mathematics (2 sessions), (Organized by Kirsti Andersen and Eberhard Knobloch)
  • Logics and Foundations of Mathematics, 1885-1905 (3 sessions), (Organized by Ivor Grattan-Guinness and F. Rodriguez-Consuegra)
  • National Schools in the 19th and 20th Centuries (3 sessions), (Organized by Sergei Demidov and Mariano Hormigon)
  • Celebration in Honor of 20 Years of Historia Mathematica

In 1994 Historia Mathematica began publication of its 20th volume, and this anniversary was celebrated in appropriate style during the Zaragoza Congress thanks to the generous support of its publisher, Academic Press. A special evening was set aside by the Congress Organizing Committee for the Commission on Friday, August 27, at 8:00 P.M., in the Drawing Room of the Council of Zaragoza, Plaza del Pilar, Zaragoza. All Congress participants were invited to attend. The evening included a number of special awards.

Second Kenneth O. May Prize Awarded in Zaragoza

The International Commission on the History of Mathematics awarded the second Kenneth O. May Prize during the XIXth International Congress of History of Science in Zaragoza, Spain, during the open plenary meeting of the Commission on August 26, 1993. The Prize was given jointly to Professor Dr. Christoph J. Scriba of the University of Hamburg, and to Professor Dr. Hans Wussing of the University of Leipzig. Both Professors Scriba and Wussing are well-known to historians of mathematics for their many publications and scholarly contributions to the international community of historians of mathematics, and the Commission is pleased to congratulate them both warmly on the announcement of this year's award.

International Congress of Mathematicians, Zurich 1994

Three invited one-hour lectures on the history of mathematics were given at the most recent ICM in Zurich (August, 1994):

Jan Hogendijk
Mathematics in Medieval Islamic Spain
Erhard Scholz
Hermann Weyl's Purely Infinitesimal Geometry and Its Philosophical Implications
Karen Hunger Parshall
Mathematics in National Contexts (1875-1900): An International Overview.

With the cooperation of the Congress Program Committee, the ICHM organized a special historical symposium consisting of five one-hour lectures on "The History of Congresses from Zürich to Zürich." These included:

Erwin Neuenschwander
International Mathematical Congresses from Zürich 1897 to Zürich 1994
Ulrich Krengel
History of Probability at the ICMs
Hourya Sinaceur
Algebra and Logic in XXth Century: Tarski's Work on Real Algebra

A Committee chaired by Erwin Neuenschwander (and comprised of Umberto Bottazzini, Sergei Demidov, and Ivor Grattan-Guinness) oversaw the planning of this symposium, the papers from which (along with other contributions that could not be included during the 1994 Congress) are being readied for publication.

ICHM Publications:

Toronto Workshop Proceedings

Proceedings of an ICHM Workshop held at the University of Toronto (July-August, 1983), entitled History in Mathematics Education, are still available in paperback (as part of the series Cahiers d'Histoire et de Philosophie des Sciences). The book may be ordered directly from the Commission by sending a check in the amount of US $20.00 (this includes postage) to the Commission's Treasurer, Menso Folkerts.

A Brief History of the ICHM:

With the cooperation of René Taton and A. P. Youshkevich, Kenneth O. May laid the foundation for the publication of an international journal for the history of mathematics during the Twelfth International Congress for the History of Science in Paris in 1968. The following year, in 1969, the International Commission on the History of Mathematics was founded with May as its first Chairman, a position he retained until shortly before his death in 1978. The Commission was to provide a "common House of Learning for all historians of mathematics in which there is room for everybody doing serious research," wrote C. J. Scriba [Drake 1978, 9]. "[May's] dream was that of a world community of historians of mathematics working together unanimously regardless of race, political conviction or other non-scientific barriers" [ibid.]. To further support the journal in its early years, and literally generate its first mailing list, May complied the first World Directory of Historians of Mathematics (1972), a work containing more than 500 names and listing the major interests of each individual.

In order to receive financial support from the Canadian government, May was also instrumental in forming a national Canadian association to help support the journal, Historia Mathematica, which initially was published by the University of Toronto Press. May served as the journals first editor, and issued its first volume in 1974. Two years later, in 1976, the Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Mathematics was formally established, adopting Historia Mathematica as its official journal. It is also the official journal of the British Society for the History of Mathematics.

Archival Materials: ICHM Documents and Editorial Files of Historia Mathematica:

The ICHM has concluded an agreement with the Archives of the Niedersächsische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen, to designate the University Archives as the official repository of all documents, correspondence and other information related to the history of the Commission and its journal, Historia Mathematica. Sixty files related to the period 1986-1993 are already in Göttingen, and the Commission expects to add regularly to the materials on deposit there for study and research.

Kenneth O. May Medal for Exemplary Contributions to the History of Mathematics

The International Commission, in conjunction with the May Committee at the University of Toronto, commissioned a bronze medal in honor of K.O. May which was designed in 1993 and struck by the Canadian sculptor Salius Jaskus. The first of the new medals was engraved and presented, officially, to Dirk J. Struik during a session devoted to the history of mathematics organized by Judith V. Grabiner and Karen Parshall during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston, February 13, 1993. The second medal was presented a few weeks later to A.P. Youschkevitch during a meeting at the Institute for History of Science and Technology in Moscow that spring. Both Professors Struik and Youschkevitch were jointly awarded the first May Prizes during the International Congress for History of Science when it met in Hamburg in August of 1989, but the medals were not then ready for presentation. The Prize, which commemorates the first Chairman of the Commission and founding editor of Historia Mathematica, is intended to acknowledge significant contributions to the history of mathematics. In addition to receiving an honorarium, recipients of the Prize are also given a certificate of award and a commemorial bronze medal.

The Executive Committee of the Commission has established an Endowment Fund to help support the Kenneth O. May Prize. Anyone wishing to honor his memory and to support the work of the International Commission is invited to contribute. The May Prize is supported by the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, University of Toronto; by the International Commission on the History of Mathematics; and by individual contributions to the ICHM May Prize Fund. Further information may be obtained from the Commission's Treasurer, Menso Folkerts (address above).

Bibliography for further information about the Commission and its history:

Drake, Stillman, et al., Memorial Tribute to Kenneth O. May, Historia Mathematica 5 (1978), 3-12.

Jones, Charles V. and Philip C. Enros, "Kenneth O. May, 1915-1977: His Early Life to 1946", Historia Mathematica 11 (1984), 359-379.