Gösta Mittag-Leffler

pp 543-552

The Big Poincaré Campaign

  • Arild StubhaugAffiliated withDepartment of Mathematics, University of Oslo Email author 

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February 1, 1910, was the deadline for submitting recommendations for the yearly Nobel Prizes. By that time thirty-four nominations had been received for Poincaré; no previous candidate had ever received so many nominations. The instigator behind this was Mittag-Leffler. Well ahead of time he had asked Appell in Paris to be the primus motor for a comprehensive report on Poincaré’s work. It was best if the recommendation should come from Appell – also because that year the Nobel committee had invited Appell to present suggestions. Mittag-Leffler emphasized that it was important for the recommendation to be supported by everyone who had the right to make a nomination. He also asked Appell to ensure that no other French candidates were suggested. In the report there should not be too much talk about “mathematics”; instead, the expression “pure theory” could be used. And Mittag-Leffler reminded his French colleague that the Nobel committee consisted of experimentalists who were afraid of everything that smelled of mathematics. The report about Poincaré was written by Appell, Darboux, and Fredholm, and it was already finished in December 1909. Mittag-Leffler then sent it to close to fifty scientists who were qualified to recommend Nobel candidates.