Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Florian Cajori

Florian Cajori (1859-1930) A Swiss American scholar who was one of the most important and prolific writers on the history of Mathematics and Physics during the latter part of the 19th century and earlier part of the 20th century. Born in Switzerland, he emigrated to the United States in 1875.  He received a Ph.D. from Tulane University in Mathematics. He was a Professor of Physics, Engineering and Mathematics at Colorado College (1889-1918) and then a Professor of Mathematics at the University of California at Berkeley (1918-1930) and held a chair there in the History of Mathematics.

I spoke with Charles Cajori (b. 1921), his son, a number of years ago. He lives in Watertown near our home in Connecticut.  Charles is an artist of some note.  We spoke about his father and the fact that his papers are housed at the U.C. Berkeley Library. Now that we live much closer to Berkeley I must go over there some day and look through those archival materials. I'm sure it will be very interesting.

Cajori, among other subjects, is known for his writing on William Oughtred and the history of the slide rule.  There is certainly much more historical interest in these areas now than when he wrote his books on those subjects just after the turn of the century.

I have listed below the more substantial works written by Florian Cajori:

A History of Mathematics
A History of Mathematical Notations I
A History of Mathematical Notations II
A History of Physics in its Elementary Branches, Including Physical Laboratories
William Oughtred A Great Seventeenth Century Teacher of Mathematics
A History of the Logarithmic Slide Rule and Allied Instruments and the History of the Gunther Scale and the Slide Rule in the Seventeenth Century
Principia, Vol. I Motion of Bodies by Isaac Newton (translated by Andrew Motte) (edited by Cajori)
Principia Vol. II A System of the World by Isaac Newton (translated by Andrew Motte( edited by Cajori)
A History of the Concepts of Limits and Fluxions in Great Britain from Newton to Woodhouse
The Teaching and History of Mathematics in the United States
An Introduction to the Modern Theory of Equations
The Chequered Career of Ferdinand Rudolph Hassler

I know that at Colorado College they had the annual Cajori Lecture for two years back in the 50s, and the Cajori Award for outstanding Engineering students at Colorado College, but I don't know if there is any continuing award of any national or international acclaim in his honor, or if there have been any substantial scholarly work on his life written. I have not found it. If you know of either, I would be glad to hear about it.

I will augment this post with additional information on Florian Cajori as time permits. Of particular note are his volumes that were published posthumously.

"If a lunatic scribbles a jumble of mathematical symbols it does not follow that the writing means anything merely because to the inexpert eye it is indistinguishable from higher mathematics." --Florian Cajori

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