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William Fogg Osgood at Harvard: Agent of a Transformation of Mathematics in the United States

Diann R. Porter
Publisher: 
Docent Press
Publication Date: 
2014
Number of Pages: 
217
Format: 
Paperback
Price: 
17.99
ISBN: 
9780988744943
Category: 
Monograph
[Reviewed by
Todd Timmons
, on
04/23/2014
]

This is much more than simply a biography of Osgood, one of the most important figures in American mathematical history. The author has tied the careers of Osgood and his fellow Harvard mathematics professor Maxime Bôcher to the development of a research community that would take its place alongside European mathematics in the first decades of the twentieth century. Both Osgood and Bôcher received German doctorates and both studied under Felix Klein before returning to positions at Harvard in the 1890s. From that point, both men proceeded to publish high quality original mathematics and to produce a new generation of American mathematicians (although, as the author points out, Bôcher was more influential in guiding young PhDs than was Osgood).

The author, Diann R. Porter, achieves two important objectives in her work. First, she does a masterful job tracing the influence of Osgood, and to a lesser extent, Bôcher, as the Harvard mathematics department emerges from the nineteenth century as a leader in producing high quality research mathematicians. Secondly, Porter analyzes the original works of Osgood himself, as he becomes one of the first American mathematicians to receive serious attention from the leaders of the European mathematics community.

Porter’s analysis of Osgood’s publications is honest and straightforward, as is her estimation of his contribution to the development of an American research community in mathematics. She discusses both the good and the bad in Osgood’s career as a teacher and researcher. All in all, this book should appeal to both the mathematician interested in the work of Osgood, as well as the historian interested in the development of American mathematics in the early twentieth century.


Todd Timmons is Professor of History at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith. At UAFS, he teaches survey courses in the History of Science, History of Mathematics, and History of Technology. His most recent book is Mathematics in Nineteenth-Century America: The Bowditch Generation, published by Docent Press in 2013. 

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