Introduction to the theme

The workshop aims at analysing anew the historiography of mathematics during the 19th and 20th centuries with special attention paid to the cultural contexts in which the history of mathematics was written. During the period from roughly 1880 to 1940, mathematics modernized in important ways, both concerning its content, its conditions for cultivation, and its identity; and the writing of history of mathematics played into the last part, in particular (see e.g. Gray 2008). Since the 1960s, the discipline has increasingly gained autonomy from mathematics occupying an interdisciplinary area with affiliations to mathematics, of course, but also with the history of science and philosophy of mathematics.

Simultaneous with the modernization of mathematics, history of mathematics gradually developed as a field of research with its own journals, societies and academic positions (see for example Dauben and Scriba 2002). Reflecting both anew professional identity and changes in the primary audience, various shifts of perspective in the way of writing history of mathematics can be observed which continue to this day: From initially concentrating on major internal, universal developments of certain sub-disciplines of mathematics, the field gradually gravitated towards a focus on contexts of knowledge production involving individuals, local practices, problems, communities, and networks. Our interest lies in linking these disciplinary and methodological changes in the history of mathematics to the wider cultural contexts of its practitioners, namely the historians of mathematics during the period in question.

By analysing the often hidden agendas of former historians of mathematics we are led to reflect upon our own professional objectives as well as on the methods and tools we employ today. Thus, our aim for this workshop is twofold: First, we want to bring together a suitable number of individual cases from a variety of backgrounds to form a first basis for comparison. Second, we want to open up for methodological discussion issues bearing on how to approach such a project in the “meta-history” of mathematics in the 19th and 20th centuries. Our hope is that the workshop will contribute to on-going research projects and illuminate a new perspective on contemporary discussions about the historiography of mathematics.


  • Dauben, J. W. and C. J. Scriba, eds. (2002). Writing the History of Mathematics. Its Historical Development. Basel, Boston, and Berlin: Birkhäuser Verlag.
  • Gray, J. (2008). Plato’s Ghost: The Modernist Transformation of Mathematics. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.
  • Weil, A. (1978). “History of mathematics: Why and how”. In: Collected Papers. 3 vols. New York: Springer-Verlag.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s