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Terence Tao's homepage has a link to a collection of quotes, and one among them was Hilbert's famous "We must know, we will know" quote. This quote also had an audio link to it. Now although I'm not sure if it is really Hilbert's voice in the link, this prompted me to ask if we could have a collection of (rare) audio/video recordings of mathematicians which are freely available on the internet.

Let me add, however, that I am not asking for audio/video recordings of mathematicians which are fairly recent (a typical example of which I am NOT asking for are TED talks or podcasts). Recordings of famous mathematicians of the early twentieth and mid twentieth century will be wonderful. (I've always wanted to find out how Von Neumann's voice sounded like!).

Addendum: Are there any videos or audio excerpts of any talks given by Grothendieck which are available anywhere? I'd be grateful if anyone could post any such links. Thanks in advance.

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While I will probably enjoy the answers... this is surely not math-philosophy! – Mariano Suárez-Alvarez Mar 15 '11 at 18:01
Excerpt of the Marston Morse video "Pits, peaks, and passes": – Ian Agol Mar 15 '11 at 18:20
Von Neumann's voice can be heard here – J Verma Mar 15 '11 at 18:39
@Agol: the video seems to be password protected now. – j.c. Mar 15 '11 at 19:49
Who would mark a question as favorite without voting up? – Marc Palm Jul 17 '13 at 14:45

29 Answers 29

up vote 20 down vote accepted

The voice of John von Neumann dedicating the NORC computer in 1954 (short excerpt and full speech).

alt text

The wire recording is a bit murky; here is my best-effort transcript of the short excerpt:

"Those of you present who have lived with this field, and who have lived with and suffered with computing machines of various sorts, and know what kind of regime it is to invest in one, I'm sure have appreciated the fact that it appears that this machine has been completely assembled less than two months ago, has been run on problems less than two weeks ago, and yesterday already ran for four hours without making a mistake. Those of you who have not been exposed to computing machines, and who do not have the desolate feeling which goes with living with their mistakes, will appreciate what it means that a computing machine, after about two weeks of breaking in, has really a faultless run of four hours. It is completely fantastic on an object of this size; I doubt it has ever been achieved before, and it is an enormous reassurance regarding the state of the art and regarding the complexities to which one will be able to go in the future, that this has been achieved."

Here is the BibTeX reference to a printed version (which differs slightly from the speech).

Author = {J. von Neumann},
Booktitle = {John von Neumann Collected Works},
Editor = {A. H. Taub},
Publisher = {Pergamon Press},
Title = {The N.O.R.C.~and Problems in High Speed Computing},
Volume = {5},
Year = 1954,
Pages = 238--247}
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I didn't know von Neumann used Windows. – Felipe Voloch Mar 16 '11 at 0:49
After hearing this I have to say that Peter Sellers did actually a very good performance in "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb". – Daniel Pape Mar 16 '11 at 9:56
Actually, even more reminiscent of Peter Sellers, is a film of Werner von Braun, circa mid-1950s, discussing orbiting nuclear-armed space stations ... I've watched this film at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, but (sadly) I have no recording of it. – John Sidles Mar 16 '11 at 22:21
I recall many years ago a TV program on Von Neumann. (Maybe in the NOVA series?) They said they scoured the world for film and found only one instance showing Von Neumann. When he was on the Atomic Energy Commission. The film showed him with many others at a publicity event in the control room of a nuclear reactor, I think. – Gerald Edgar May 11 '11 at 15:34
The link is broken; the recordings can be found at: – jinawee Jan 5 '15 at 19:39

Jean Dieudonné, Bourbaki secretary and author of the nine-volume "Foundations of Modern Analysis" giving an interview on french television about his book "Pour l'honneur de l'esprit humain : les mathématiques aujourd'hui":

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Also, the coauthor with Grothendieck of the Éléments de géométrie algébrique, see… . – Leo Alonso Mar 16 '11 at 15:14
Nice video! (could be merged with the other videos of French mathematicians). Funny to see how the announcer Bernard Pivot sweats when interviewing Dieudonné... – François Brunault Mar 16 '11 at 16:09

I just found the follow audio recordings of Grothendieck:

Unfortunately, it does not show Grothendieck "in mathematical action", but quite the contrary: In 1972, he hosted a conference at CERN entitled "Allons nous continuer la recherche scientifique?/Will we continue scientific research?"

The link is to CERN's own audio archives.

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that's amazing! thanks a lot for the link!!! – user5831 May 28 '13 at 22:06
Great find, thank you! I never imagined that Grothendieck spoke French with a German accent! – Marc Hoyois Jul 18 '13 at 13:08

Addendum: Are there any videos or audio excerpts of any talks given by Grothendieck which are available anywhere? I'd be grateful if anyone could post any such links. Thanks in advance.

Actually, several lecture courses by Grothendieck have been recorded but afaik not available online. Maybe you can make a FOI request if you are really interested---the copyright is by University of Buffalo so hopefully subject to Freedom of Information Act.

Here is a reference:

1973 Recordings Lecture Courses by Alexandre GROTHENDIECK 3 Lecture Courses on respectively 1. Algebraic Geometry 2. The Theory of Algebraic Groups 3. Topos Theory

( The copyright of all these recordings is that of the Department of Mathematics of SUNY at Buffalo )

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Are these video or audio recordings? – silvascientist Apr 1 at 5:45

Another place you can watch Bertrand Russell is in Aman (1967), to my knowledge the unique appearance of a mathematician in a Bollywood film. The relevant part is here: ,

in which Russell talks with a medical student who is proposing to do research on atom bomb survivors in Japan.

(The Hindi voiceover during the interview just repeats what they're saying in English. In the 30 seconds before Russell appears, the dialogue roughly translates as "A letter from Bertrand Russell! Gee whiz!"

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Poor old man mustve been gritting his teeth through the entire scene! – Koundinya Vajjha Mar 26 '11 at 17:18
"This video is private." – Rasmus Bentmann Jul 17 '13 at 13:49

Apparently that really was Hilbert's voice: see for more about this speech.

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Thanks a lot for this! – Koundinya Vajjha Mar 16 '11 at 2:42

Here is a long video about Richard Courant. Apparently he was one of the first people to own a video camera so there is some really old footage of some of the fathers of modern mathematics. If you scroll to 33:00, you will find footage of David Hilbert shoveling snow!

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Three lectures by John Milnor on differential topology from 1965:

(Don't know if they had been mentioned in the other video related questions.)

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"That page can’t be found." – Rasmus Bentmann Jul 17 '13 at 13:51
fixed the link. – Michael Bächtold Jul 17 '13 at 13:58

Here are some videos of French mathematicians :

André Lichnerowicz, speaking about mathematical structures in 1966 :

Laurent Schwartz, speaking about the student contestations in France in May 1968 :

There is also a video tape of an interview of Laurent Schwartz made by the École polytechnique in 1995 (it is not available online but can be purchased here). It contains, among others, a short video extract from a lecture he gave (long ago) to the Polytechnique students. His enthusiast lecturing style is remembered by many, if not all, students from these times.

Finally, the following audio file contains an interview of the probabilist Paul Lévy (1886-1971) made by the French radio "France Culture" in 1971 :

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On YouTube there are a lot from Paul Erdős. Not to mention the wonderful movie N is a number.

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Bertrand Russell, co-author (with Alfred North Whitehead) of Principia Mathematica, interviewed on BBC television in 1959 (three parts):

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Here's is one of Einstein

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"This video is private." – Rasmus Bentmann Jul 17 '13 at 13:52

Science Lives - Simons Foundation,

[a] series of extended interviews with some of the giants of twentieth century mathematics and science,

currently hosts video interviews with

Pierre Deligne, Robert D. MacPherson, Egbert Brieskorn, Paul Sally, Yuri Manin, Chen-ning Yang, Friedrich Hirzebruch, Isadore Singer, and Michael Atiyah.

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While he's not exactly a mathematician, there is on Youtube a wealth of Richard Feynman lectures and interviews. My personal favourite is part of the "The Character of Physical Law" Messenger Lectures at Cornell, titled the distinction of past and future. (Though, really, all the Messenger lectures are amazing.)

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First thing I thought of was the Princeton oral history project about math in the 1930's:

however they don't seem to have the audio online (just transcripts of the interviews, that are still very interesting). I wonder if the audio tapes are accessible at the Mudd library or elsewhere.

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I found the video recording of The Atle Selberg Memorial which was held at the IAS a few years back. There is an "archival clip" of Selberg at the IAS included in the same page. This may be the same video which others have already posted. I apologize if it is. Nevertheless, the video recording of the memorial should be of interest.

Atle Selberg,1917-2007

Also, here is an interview (in PDF format) of his wherein he discusses the dispute arising from the Prime Number Theorem and his trace formula among other things. It makes for a very good reading over a cup of steaming hot coffee.

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Timothy Gowers here on youtube lecturing a talk on: The Importance of Mathematics

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Someone has created a bunch of links to math videos at -- in particular the sublist at includes a link to a wonderful interview with von Neumann on a 1950s TV show, Youth Wants to Know. That clip can be gotten to directly at

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I just noticed, the direct link to the von Neumann clip was given by J Verma in comments to the OP's question. – Barry Cipra Jun 4 '13 at 21:05

There is a list of 5 interviews of Pierre Cartier on the French radio.

To listen, see:

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The title of this one from YouTube is Einstein, Dirac, Godel, Selberg, Harish-Chandra in Princeton. No audio, unfortunately.

Update: Hmm, the old link appears to be dead. I think this one now works.

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Erdos and Weyl are in there, too, but apparently didn't rank highly enough to make the title. – Kevin O'Bryant Mar 15 '11 at 21:10
"This video is private." – Rasmus Bentmann Jul 17 '13 at 13:52

Here is lecture by Benoit Mandelbrot "Fractals and the art of roughness" At TED2010, mathematics legend Benoit Mandelbrot develops a theme he first discussed at TED in 1984 -- the extreme complexity of roughness, and the way that fractal math can find order within patterns that seem unknowably complicated.

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The 1984 BBC Horizon documentary, A mathematical mystery tour, evidently re-edited and re-aired as a PBS Nova documentary, features a number of famous mathematicians as talking heads, including Atiyah, Dieudonné, and Erdős. But in particular, it features René Thom, who can be seen here walking a fine line between conceding Bourbaki's utility and still damning it with faint praise.

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In this interview, John H. Conway is interviewed by Chaim Goodman-Strauss for the "Math Factor". The interview mainly focusses on Conway's long time collaboration with the legendary Martin Gardner. Only audio.

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Of course, you can talk to John Conway just by visiting Princeton! – David Corwin Jul 8 '12 at 17:15

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