Poincaré and the tradition of French mathematical physics. (Poincaré et la tradition de la physique mathématique française.) (French) Zbl 0860.01017

Greffe, Jean-Louis (ed.) et al., Henri Poincaré. Science et philosophie: congrès international, mai 14-18, 1994, Nancy, France. Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 35-44 (1996).
The paper considers the small interval between 1886 and 1901. In 1886 Poincaré was elected professor of mathematical physics at the Sorbonne, a position which he kept until 1896. Bertrand was against his election, because Poincaré until then had not published a single paper on physics; physics at that time did not include mechanics and celestial mechanics. Mathematical physics did not mean the same in Great Britain, Germany and France. In France a text on theoretical physics was a purely mathematical one, only mathematicians were able to create theories. Physicists however invented experiments and instruments. During the year 1887/8 Poincaré delivered a lecture on Maxwell’s “Treatise on electromagnetism” including the electromagnetic theory of light. But Poincaré was not the first to introduce Maxwell to a French audience, as is often stated. In 1890 Poincaré published volume 1 of “Electricité et optique”. In 1889/90 he lectured on Maxwell. In the meantime Hertz’s experiments were made known in Paris. While working on his volume 2, Poincaré added the theory of Helmholtz and the experiments of Hertz. When the book was published in 1891, he had to confess that Maxwell’s theory was still incomplete and that some experiments were contradicting. Therefore this volume had the subtitle “Les théories de Helmholtz et les expériences de Hertz”. Now Poincaré collaborated with René Prosper Blondlot who had won 3 prizes because of his experiments on Maxwell’s theory. In 1894 Poincaré published the results of a further course “Les oscillations électriques”. In 1896 Poincaré became professor for celestial mechanics and Boussinesq succeeded him in mathematical physics. Poincaré gave a last course on electrodynamics in 1898/9; there he also discussed the new theories of Larmor and Lorentz. After 1901, however, Poincaré did not follow the new developments anymore, for the rest of his life he stayed an adherent of Helmholtz and hostile with Maxwell.
For the entire collection see [Zbl 0838.00010].


01A55 History of mathematics in the 19th century
78-03 History of optics and electromagnetic theory

Biographic References:

Poincaré, H.