I am helping my colleague, Brigitte Stenhouse, in a piece of work on “contextualizing the curriculum”. We are looking to assemble a collection of mathematical sources which showcase diversity in mathematics and the roles played by society and community in mathematical research. We are interested in historical sources that show people of different ethnicities, of different genders, of different social classes, in different locations and in different settings… doing, learning or accessing mathematics. So, my questions for you are:

Do you know of such sources? Do you have access to them? Can you help us get access to them?

It might help to know what we mean by sources. They can be materials held in archives or published works. For the project we will ultimately want an image of the original primary source material, and we will produce a transcription / image description/ translation as appropriate. The sources can be associated with an individual or with a larger group of people who shared a mathematical practice. Some possible examples:

  • Katherine Goble Johnson’s paper Determination of Azimuth Angle at Burnout for Placing a Satellite Over a Selected Earth Position [SJ60]: this was the first instance of a woman in the flight research division of NASA receiving credit as the author of a research report.
  • Pages from an unpublished book on differential calculus written by Mary Somerville c. 1830.
  • Dadabhai Naoroji’s 1876 paper on Poverty of India which used statistics to criticize and analyse the extraction of resources from India by the British Empire.
  • A 1920 paper on Fertility of the Middle Classes: A statistical study co-authored by Frances Wood [BGW20], after whom the Wood Medal of the Royal Statistical Society is named. This paper appeared in the journal The Eugenics Review. This will naturally cause immediate recoil for many people and so the supplementary material for this source will need to address this and explain the context.

Our intention is that, whenever a source is added to the collection, we also add supplementary information: context and user notes, discussion questions, assessment suggestions. We want the collection to be easily searchable, and to be freely available as a resource for people interested in the many different contexts in which mathematics is done. We are imagining a target audience of college students and undergraduates with an interest in the history of mathematics.

I will make this question a community-wiki. It would be great to hear of as many sources as possible that Brigitte and I can investigate and add to the collection. If you would like to learn more please contact Brigitte via her OU email address at the link above.

[BGW20] Brown JW, Greenwood, Wood F. The fertility of the English middle classes. A statistical study. Eugen Rev. 1920 Oct;12(3):158-211.

[SJ60] Skopinski, T. H., Johnson, K. G. (1960). Determination of Azimuth Angle at Burnout for Placing a Satellite Over a Selected Earth Position. United States: National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

  • $\begingroup$ Not sure how to make this Community Wiki but whatho... $\endgroup$
    – Nick Gill
    Jul 21, 2023 at 16:03
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ maybe this fits better in hsm.stackexchange.com. $\endgroup$ Jul 21, 2023 at 16:45
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @NickGill I think that due to one of the many rounds of changes, one has to flag the question after it is posted and request that a moderator makde it CW. I have done so, but since some (most?) of the moderators are on strike that may take a while. $\endgroup$
    – Yemon Choi
    Jul 21, 2023 at 17:48
  • $\begingroup$ There is this link which probably has a lot of useful pointers: arbitrarilyclose.com/2016/08/21/… which I was made aware of because of a collection of resources organized by Corrine Yap at Rutgers. You can explore the larger collection here: sites.math.rutgers.edu/~sg1108/Web/antiracism.html $\endgroup$ Jul 21, 2023 at 20:41
  • $\begingroup$ I agree with Thomas Kojar that approaching historians of mathematics is probably more promising than posting to MathOverflow. For example, for Indian mathematics, you could try contacting Kim Plofker. $\endgroup$ Jul 22, 2023 at 12:56

1 Answer 1


These are well known, but:

Weil worked on the Foundations of Algebraic Geometry and the Riemann Hypothesis for curves while in jail for draft evasion.

Leray developed sheaf theory and invented spectral sequences in a prisoner of war camp. (Though Borel once insisted that "That was no prison camp; it was a country club".)

  • $\begingroup$ I think that to address what Nick is asking for, this answer would need to include pointers to sources which document these examples. For the second of these, there is a copy of a MathIntelligencer article by Sigmund, Michor and Sigmund: mat.univie.ac.at/~michor/leray.pdf $\endgroup$
    – Yemon Choi
    Jul 21, 2023 at 18:04
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @YemonChoi: For the first, Weil's autobiography is a good source. $\endgroup$ Jul 21, 2023 at 19:40
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, Yemon and Steven, these are interesting examples. Yemon, is right when he says I'm after historical sources -- the mathintelligencer article has a whole bunch of photos that look like what we're after! I will seek out Weil's autobigraphy... $\endgroup$
    – Nick Gill
    Jul 24, 2023 at 7:02

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.