Forms of Professional Activity in Mathematics before the Nineteenth Century

  • Ivo Schneider


In 1977 a questionnaire was sent to all mathematics graduates of the BRD asking what their current professional activity was. This very fact demonstrates that while the existence of a specialized training program forms the basis for recognizing the professional status of the mathematician in current society, the manner and extent of the ever-changing and expanding possibilities for utilizing the special skills of this professional group must be constantly reexamined. These shifts are even recognizable in the instructional program itself, for the course offerings in the various institutions of learning are closely correlated with current research, which influences not only the composition and selection of materials for required courses of study but also the introduction of new disciplines. That even areas considered as the core of the educational curriculum are subject to gradual change is indicated by the progressively diminishing course offerings in number theory and geometry, which were once considered classical areas of study, but are scarcely even regarded in current research.


Eighteenth Century Seventeenth Century Professional Activity Mathematical Research Private Tutor 
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  1. 1.
    Nathan Reingold in “Definitions and Speculations: The Professionalization of Science in America in the Nineteenth Century”, The Pursuit of Knowledge in the Early American Republic (eds. A. Oleson and S.C. Brown), Baltimore-London 1976,pp. 33–69, holds that this process started in the U.S. in the 1860’s. This would have occured several decades earlier in Europe.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Ivo Schneider, “Die mathematischen Praktiker im See-, Vermessungs- und Wehrwesen vom 15. bis zum 19. Jahrhundert”, Technikgeschichte,37 (1970), pp. 210–242.MathSciNetGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    See Kepler’s letter to an unknown lady written in 1612, where he discusses the prestige connected with the title “mathematicus” or “Sternseher”, in: Johannes Kepler, Gesammelte Werke, vol. 17, München 1955, pp. 39–44, esp. 40f.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See F. Viète, Opera mathematica, Leiden 1647, p. 305.Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    See F. Viète, Opera mathematica, Leiden 1647, p. 305.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Compare Ivo Schneider, “Descartes’ Diskussion der Fermatschen Extremwertmethode — ein Stück Ideengeschichte der Mathematik”, Archive for History of Exact Sciences, 7 (1971), pp. 354–374.MathSciNetMATHCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    See E.G.R. Taylor, The Mathematical Practitioners of Tudor and Stuart England, Cambridge 1954, pp. 81f.MATHGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    See Taylor ibid. p. 216.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    See Correspondence of Scientific Men (ed. S.J. Rigaud) in two vols., Oxford 1841, esp. the letter from Collins to Baker on August 19, 1676 or Cotes to Jones on February 15, 1711.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    See especially Collins’s letters to various persons in Rigaud ibid. Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    This becomes especially clear in the correspondence between Lagrange and d’Alembert. See Oeuvres de Lagrange, vol. 13, Paris 1882.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    See Ivo Schneider, “Der Mathematiker Abraham de Moivre (1667–1754)”, Archive for History of Exact Sciences, 5 (1968), pp. 177–317.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    This is beautifully illustrated by the letter from Johann Bernoulli to Euler on April 23, 1743, in which he contends that he would leave his country for the sake of better conditions for mathematical research. See Correspondence Mathématique et Physique de quelques célèbres géomètres du XVIIIème siècle (ed. P.-H. Fuss), in two vols., Petersburg 1843, esp. vol. II, p. 524.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    See letter from Lagrange to d’Alembert on September 21, 1781; Oeuvres de Lagrange, vol. 13, p. 368.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    See e.g. letter from d’Alembert to Lagrange on April 10, 1769, where d’Alembert reports that Condorcet’s family has given up their resistance to his membership in the Academy even though many aristocrats believe “que le titre et le métier de savant dérogent à la noblesse”. Oeuvres de Lagrange, vol. 13, p. 130.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    See Die Berliner und die Petersburger Akademie der Wissenschaften im Briefwechsel Leonhard Eulers (ed. A.P. Youschkevitch and E. Winter) in three parts, Berlin 1959, 1961, 1976.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    See Gert Schubring’s article in this volume.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1981

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  • Ivo Schneider

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