Philadelphia Area Seminar on the History of Mathematics (PASHoM)

A seminar of faculty from colleges and universities in the Philadelphia area, with a shared interest in the history of mathematics. The seminar meets monthly during the academic year. Usually the seminar meets at 6:00 p.m. on a Thursday evening at Villanova University for a light meal, conversation and a presentation.

Established January 2001 for persons in the greater Philadelphia area to:

  • share our common interest in history of mathematics,
  • encourage one another in our research efforts,
  • offer a forum for reporting on work in progress.

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Click for directions to Villanova University

Meeting on Thursday, April 24, 2014

The PASHoM will meet Thursday from 6:00PM to 8:00PM in St. Augustine Center Room 300.

Conversation will begin at 6:00PM and a light supper will be provided (Donation: $10.00). When the discussion lags, about 6:30, Shelley Costa (Swarthmore College, West Chester University, and Independent Scholar) will speak on:

Theory of Differences:  How and why the most famous science writer in 19th-century England could not get her mathematical textbook published

Mary Fairfax Somerville's writings on mathematics and science made her a household name in Victorian England.  Her most well-known work was Mechanism of the Heavens (1831), a highly valued exposition of Laplace.  While most of her titles were popular expositions, her book on Physical Geography was used as a standard textbook until the 20th century.  Her publisher treated her with great deference and her influential writings led her to receive an annual pension from the British government from 1835 until her death in 1872.  Yet Mary Somerville could not get her favorite project, a mathematical textbook on the calculus of variations, published.  Why???  In answering this question, I will explore the concept of originality in mathematics (and in publishing), and how class and gender might have played a role. The talk will summarize my research on the manuscript and the correspondence between her and her publisher, and how I was led to this topic as part of researching a project currently under contract with Johns Hopkins University Press:  The Material of Intellect:  A Historical Sourcebook on Women and Mathematics, 1500-1900.