Judith V. Grabiner
6:30 PM - June 16, 2015
MAA Carriage House
1781 Church St.
Washington, D.C. 20036
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Abstract: Euclid’s Elements is the most influential textbook in the history of western civilization, serving as a model of reasoning not only in mathematics but in philosophy, theology, and politics. But Euclid’s geometry rests on assumptions, and one of the assumptions—even from the beginning—didn’t seem self-evident. People kept trying to prove that assumption, and the ways they tried tell us a lot about the relationship between mathematics and society. Meanwhile, the unchallenged authority of the Euclidean ideal was used by people like Newton, Voltaire, Euler, and Lagrange to support the Enlightenment world view.
But in the nineteenth century, suddenly there were new non-Euclidean geometries. They challenged the authority of mathematics, undermined received ideas in philosophy and culture, and had a hand in the birth of modernism. Changes came not only from people like Gauss, Lobachevsky, Helmholtz, and Einstein, but also artists and philosophers. Looking at all of this will illustrate both how culture helps shape mathematics and how mathematics has shaped the modern world.
Biography: Judith V. Grabiner is the Flora Sanborn Pitzer Professor of Mathematics at Pitzer College and an acclaimed historian of mathematics. The author of three books and many articles on the history of mathematics, Grabiner won the Mathematical Association of America’s 2014 Beckenbach Book Prize for A Historian Looks Back: The Calculus as Algebra and Selected Writings. She is an inaugural fellow of the American Mathematical Society and recipient of the MAA's Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics, given to teachers whose influence reaches beyond their own institutions. She is the only four-time winner of the MAA’s Lester R. Ford Award for best article in American Mathematical Monthly. Grabiner’s numerous other awards include the Distinguished Teaching Award of the Southern California Section of the MAA and the Outstanding Professor Award from California State University, Dominguez Hills. She taught a DVD course on Mathematics, Philosophy and the “Real World” for The Great Courses lifelong learning company. Professor Grabiner earned her BS in mathematics at the University of Chicago and her PhD in the history of science from Harvard University. She has taught at UC Santa Barbara, Cal Sate L. A., UCLA, Pomona College, and Cal State Dominguez Hills before coming to Pitzer in 1985, and has been a visiting scholar at the Universities of Leeds, Edinburgh, Cambridge, and Copenhagen.