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Archives of American Mathematics Spotlight: The R. L. Moore Papers

Archives of American Mathematics Spotlight: The R. L. Moore Papers

By Kristy Sorensen

A cornerstone collection of the Archives of American Mathematics at the Center for American History is the R. L. Moore Papers. These papers consist of correspondence, research notebooks, drafts, teaching material, mathematical notes, printed material, photographs, and other material documenting the life and career of Robert Lee Moore.

Back row, left to right: R.E. Bayse, E.C. Klipple, F. Burton Jones, Front row, left to right: C.W. Vickery, R.L. Moore, R.G. Lubben; ca. 1935, from the R.G. Lubben Papers, Archives of American Mathematics, Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

R. L. Moore (1882-1974) was a professor of mathematics at The University of Texas at Austin for almost fifty years. He is well known for his work in point-set topology, but is most remembered for his work as an educator. During his long career, Moore supervised over 50 doctoral students, including three members of the National Academy of Sciences, three presidents of the American Mathematical Society and four presidents of the Mathematical Association of America.

Moore regularly taught undergraduate calculus and pre-calculus courses in addition to his more advanced classes. In his advanced classes, Moore?s way of teaching, known as the ?Moore Method? or the ?Texas Method? began with the careful selection of students who did not have an extensive knowledge about the topic to be discussed. He would then give the students some basic axioms and definitions and ask them to construct proofs and examples for different theorems. The students were not allowed to read any texts, discuss the problems among themselves, or seek help from other professors in the department. Instead of lectures, the classroom experience consisted of a student explaining his or her proof at the board while other students asked questions. If the student got stuck, or if a flaw was found in his or her proof, another student would take his or her place at the board.

Undated notes by R.L. Moore. From the R.L. Moore Papers, Archives of American Mathematics, Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

The majority of the collection pertains to Moore?s professional career, including sections on correspondence, mathematical works, teaching, professional organizations and honorary societies, and general material. Moore?s professional correspondence provides a rich look into his career and his relationship with his contemporaries. The section on mathematical works includes published and unpublished items by Moore and others. It also contains an extensive collection of Moore?s notes and drafts. Insight into Moore as a teacher can be gained from many of the papers. Administrative correspondence and departmental business, as well as class records and notes and correspondence about the 1967 MAA film about Moore?s teaching style, Challenge in the Classroom, are included. Other sections of Moore?s professional life, including his presidency of the American Mathematical Society, and his relationship with Professor George Bruce Halsted are also represented in this series.

The personal series documents Moore?s family life, hobbies, health, and finances, and includes subseries on: correspondence, family, education, health, finances, genealogy, automobiles and motoring, rezoning, notes, printed material, and photographs. Moore corresponded with many of his family members, but the deepest correspondence was with his brother, Jennings Moore. In general, only the letters received by Moore are present, although in some cases, drafts or copies of Moore?s letters are included in the collection.

In addition to his papers, the archives also has books, offprints, and journals from Moore?s personal library, as well as a set of dissertations from some of Moore and H. S. Wall?s graduate students.

A biography on R. L. Moore, utilizing sources from the Archives of American Mathematics will be published by the MAA later this year. The finding aid for the R. L. Moore Papers is available on the Texas Archival Resources Online webpage:

The Archives of American Mathematics is located at the Research and Collections division of the Center for American History on the University of Texas at Austin campus. Persons interested in conducting research or donating materials or who have general questions about the Archives of American Mathematics should contact, (512) 495-4539. The archives web page is at