Roaring Twenties in American Mathematics

This morning, Karen Hunger Parshall talked about the flourishing world of mathematics post WWI in the Roaring Twenties in American Mathematics. Parshall framed the advances of the era through the bifurcation of topology into the point set branch, led by R.L. Moore, and the algebraic branch to Oswald Veblen, and a similar splits in other fields.

In the words of Dieudonne, this was a period of “development and chaos,” and unsurprisingly, the roaring 20’s of math was a whole bunch of white guys.

Parshall is a professor jointly in the departments of mathematics and history at the University of Virginia, and the author of several books on the history of mathematics. Today’s talk was a preview of a forthcoming book by Parshall on the topic under discussion.

Parshall gave an overview of various field in mathematics at the time and highlighted the key players and loci for work. Suffice to say that there were some very busy mathematicians in Chicago, Princeton, and Harvard at the time.

If the twenties were a crucible for geometry and topology, it was not the time to be a group theorist. Parshall quoted Eric Temple Bell as saying that by the 1920’s finite group theory seemed “to have been pushed to the limit of human endeavor and even slightly beyond.”

For some great live tweeting of the talk from a well-informed perspective, check out the feed of math history Tweetmaster Michael J. Barany @MBarany.

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