Prospering within Mathematics.




Introduction: The “Human Interest” of Mathematics In January 1919, the President of the Carnegie Institution, the mathematician R. S. Woodward, wrote to Leonard Dickson regarding the introduction to what would become Dickson’s celebrated History of the Theory of Numbers. In particular, Woodward encouraged Dickson to “add the human interest which many of our friends who are professed humanists deny to our favorite science.” From Woodward’s perspective, this approach would give the book “the kind of sendoff its rich mine of contents so admirably deserves.”1

Just think of it. Over a century ago, as members of the American mathematics community aimed to produce work and publications that would lend credibility to the discipline, Woodward encouraged a focus on the human aspect of mathematics as a prelude to Dickson’s 1600-page study of number theory. Even more, Woodward viewed that approach as an admirable sendoff for the 400-year study. Woodward was ahead of his time. The young community aimed to create institutions to award doctoral degrees, build societies to bring colleagues together to discuss ideas, and establish publication venues to disperse research more broadly. In this broader context, however, Woodward urged Dickson, a leader in every aspect of this work at the time, to remember and celebrate the human being actually doing the work.

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Copyright © 2021, American Mathematical Society.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1090/noti2380.