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Marshall Stone and the internationalization of the American mathematical research community. (English) Zbl 1170.01007
The article is quite appealing due to the fact that the author had access to archive material. The year 1938 came fifty years after R. Archibald’s A semicentennial History of the American Mathemtical Society during which had flourished already the Bulletin started in 1891 and the Transactions, after 1900. George David Birkhoff may be considered to have been the mid-century doyen of American mathematics, at times the latter became fully competitive with its European counterparts. Under Birkhoff, Marshal M. Stone earned his PhD at Harvard in 1926 and then spent years at that place before he became head of the Mathematics Department of the University of Chicago. He made a major step in 1932 publishing his volume on “Transformations in Hilbert space and their Applications” [American Mathematical Society Colloquium Publ., 15. New York: American Mathematical Society (AMS) (1932; Zbl 0005.40003; JFM 58.0420.02)], deemed ‘one of great classics of the twentieth-century mathematics’ by George Mackey. In 1948 Stone proved the so-called Stone-Weierstrass theorem, considered as one of the most frequently quoted references all over in mathematics. By the end of 1940 the American mathematical community had recieved only two answers concerning the invitations to attend the ICM congress to be held in Boston. On behalf of the Deutsche Mathematiker-Vereinigung Wilhelm Süss expressed the hope that despite the emphatic wishes for war of our former enemy, England, the war can soon be brought to an end without too much injury to the scientific standards or to the savants in the war zone’. Sophie Piccard could only inform that the Swiss would provide visas only to persons possessing already a visa from other countries. Stone felt frustrated by that issue. Yet he now became more willing to invest much more efforts to bringing together mathematicians from all over the world. This decision was taken during the period 1943-1945 when Stone had succeeded to Marston Morse as president of the AMS. The author of the article then investigates in detail the difficulty of the task to advance during the critical post-war epoch. In 1949 Stone embarked on an around-the-world trip starting in Asia and ending in Nancy, France, where he participated in an evening of food and mathematics conversation with members ‘of the elite mathematical collective, Bourbaki’. He was successful to hire in Chicago outstanding mathematicians: Saunders MacLane, John von Neumann, André Weil, Hassler Whitney, Oscar Zariski, Paul Halmos, Irving Segal, Albert Calderon and others. The ICM congress finally held in 1950 in Cambridge MA was a big event with over 1700 mathematicians although only 290 from outside of North America. Stone became President of the IMU for the period 1952-1954. The first vice-president was Emile Borel.
The reviewer would like to recall a supplementary information concerning the topics quoted at the beginning of the article. Norbert Wiener writes about mathematics in the USA after World War One: “George Birkhoff was determined to become and to remain the first American mathematician in those classical branches of mathematics known as analysis, which constitute the extension and the elaboration of Newton’s calculus and physics.” Veblen was interested in topology and believed that it was his destiny to introduce this abstract field as a new American mathematics, in contrast to what he considered the effect and dying European mathematics of analysis, of the differential and integral calculus. He contributed to the birth of a valuable mathematical subject, but his concern with the health of analysis has proved to be at least premature’. We quote the concluding remark of the article: ‘The Cambridge ICM in 1950, but more importantly the beginning of the work of the new IMU in 1952 with Stone as President marked the self-conscious transformation of the American mathematical research community from a national community oriented toward fostering mathematics at home to an international one sensitive to the vicissitudes of world politics and focusd not only on participating actively in but also influencing the mathematical endeavor worldwide.’
MSC:
01A60 History of mathematics in the 20th century
01A65 Development of contemporary mathematics
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