Novembertagung 2010: A conference for History of Mathematics Ph.D. students

Novembertagung is an annual conference for and organized by History of Mathematics Ph.D. students. It is a peculiar type of conference, being very laid-back, and consisting of yet un-established scientists. The first conference was held in Wupperthal in Germany in 1990.

Despite the name, countries like the Netherlands, Denmark, Czech Republic, France, Austria, and Great Britain, in addition to Germany, have hosted Novembertagung.

The latest Novembertagung was held in Mainz, Germany and organized by Eva Kaufholz and Philipp Kranz from the Johann Gutenberg University. Novembertagung is a conference that provides an arena for students to share their research, as well as providing an invited speaker. This year’s invited speaker was “Novembertagung old timer” Henrik Kragh Sørensen from Aarhus University.

The theme for this year’s Novembertagung was “Lost in Translation: Writing the History of Mathematics in Languages and Notations of the 21th Century”; however all contributions within history and philosophy of mathematics were welcome.

Due to a moderate number of participants, there were no parallel sessions and each speaker was given 30 minutes for presentation, followed by 15 minutes for questions and comments. The presentations were roughly grouped as mathematical, historical, philosophical, and history of mathematics education, and they were either connected to the works of one specific mathematician – Laurent Schwartz, Descartes, Frans van Schooten, Elie Cartan, Paul Dirac, Felix Klein, Louis Poinsot, and Leopold Krohnecker – or they had a more thematic angle like history of symplectic geometry, the concepts of 19th century analysis, mathematics education in the 19th century, beauty and mathematics, and how to make use of history of mathematics in mathematics education.

Henrik Kragh Sørensen gave two presentations, in the first he asked what is Abelian about Abelian groups, and in the other he addressed the theme of the conference, “Lost in Translation”. As Henrik noted, there are several types of translation, such as ideological, contextual, conceptual, notational, and each type has its problems and challenges. Fundamental questions in this context may, for instance, include if we shall accept an algebraic understanding of Euclid, and is it always possible to adapt mathematical notations?

The closing discussion ended by agreeing that Novembertagung 2011 will be in Paris, with the preliminary theme “Collectives in mathematical practice” and with Anne-Sandrine Paumier, Jenny Boucard and Jemma Lorenat as organizers.

Andreas Christiansen
Stord/Haugesund University College

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