50 Years of CSHPM

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June 2024 TOC icon
June 2024 (Vol. 56, No. 3)

CSHPM Notes brings scholarly work on the history and philosophy of mathematics to the broader mathematics community. Authors are members of the Canadian Society for History and Philosophy of Mathematics (CSHPM). Comments and suggestions are welcome; they may be directed to the column’s editor:

Amy Ackerberg-Hastingsindependent scholar (aackerbe@verizon.net)

The Canadian Society for History and Philosophy of Mathematics (La Société Canadienne d’Histoire et de Philosophie des Mathématiques) is observing its fiftieth anniversary in 2024. As part of that celebration, this column presents a brief history of the society and its many accomplishments.

The initial push for the creation of the society came from Kenneth O. May (1915–1977) at the Institute for History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto. Although he made his own research contributions to the study of the history of mathematics, perhaps his greatest legacy was his extensive organization and promotion of the subject, including founding the history of mathematics journal Historia Mathematica. In 1972, May surveyed his peers’ interest in the creation of a society dedicated to both history and philosophy of mathematics; the enthusiastic response led to an organizational meeting at the Conference of Learned Societies held the following year at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

Fig 1a-K O May from HM
Untitled design (12)
Figure 1. Kenneth O. May (1915–1977) from the obituary by Joseph W. Dauben and Laura Roebuck for Historia Mathematica; a 23 February 1973 letter by May scheduling the organizational meeting described above.

Charles V. Jones of York University chaired the 1973 organizational meeting in May’s absence, and the meeting participants agreed to move forward with the creation of the society. Jones made the arrangements to hold the first official meeting at the next Learned Societies conference, hosted by the University of Toronto in 1974. This initial meeting included a contributed papers session, a joint session with the Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science (CSHPS), and a business meeting to officially approve the new society’s by-laws, which had been written by Jones, together with Tom Settle of the University of Guelph. Historia Mathematica was named the official journal of the society (the first published issue came out only a few months earlier in the year). The first elected officers included Jones as President, Settle as Vice President, and J. Lennart Berggren of Simon Fraser University as Secretary-Treasurer.

The CSHPM membership expanded fairly quickly after the first June 1974 meeting, with 27 paid members by August and 60 paid members by October, including 11 members in the United States. The following year the membership more than doubled, increasing to 144 members by October 1975, including 103 members from Canada, another block of members from over a third of the states in the United States, and also members from Australia, Columbia, France, Germany, Israel, South Korea and Venezuela. This international appeal of the society has continued through the years; for example, while the majority of the society’s members have continued to come from Canada and the United States, in 2002 alone the society had members from Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Malta, Mexico, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and Zimbabwe. While the membership had some early dips, overall it continued to grow, reaching a high point of 209 members in 2004. In more recent years, the society has averaged a little over 150 members per year.

Fig 2-presidents collage
Figure 2. Most of CSHPM’s presidents (left to right, top to bottom): Len Berggren, Gilbert de B. Robinson, Ed Barbeau, Craig Fraser, Tom Archibald, Robert Thomas, Jim Tattersall, Glen Van Brummelen, Robert Bradley, Alexander Jones, Duncan Melville, Jean-Pierre Marquis, Elaine Landry, Dirk Schlimm, Maria Zack, and Nic Fillion.

Unfortunately, May’s life was cut short in 1977, and so he did not get a chance to see the growth and development of the society he had helped to initiate. Soon after his death, a fund was created in his name to help support the expenses of keynote speakers at CSHPM meetings. In 2002, the annual CSHPM keynote address was formally renamed the Kenneth O. May Lecture in his honor. A collection of twelve of these lectures were published by Springer in 2005 as Mathematics and the Historian’s Craft: The Kenneth O. May Lectures, edited by Glen Van Brummelen and Michael Kinyon, as part of the CMS Books in Mathematics series.

The story of the selection of the CSHPM logo by Charles Jones in 1976 has already been told in a previous CSHPM Notes column (see “Bonaventura Cavalieri and the CSHPM Logo” in CMS Notes, pp. 18–19, February 2017). While unquestionably drawn from a pivotal historical work, CSHPM members have not always been enthusiastic about the selected image. In particular, in 2001–2002 the Executive Council surveyed the membership about the logo and asked for possible alternatives; however, while several options were briefly considered, the original image drawn from Cavalieri’s Geometrica Indivisibilibus Continuorum was left unchanged.

Fig 3-Cavalieri_Figure_BW
Figure 3. The CSHPM/SCHPM Logo.

After several years of more informal newsletters, the Bulletin of the CSHPM/SCHPM was first issued in November 1986. Except for brief interruptions, the Bulletin has been published regularly twice a year, offering announcements of upcoming conferences and other events, book and website reviews, articles highlighting the achievements and publications of society members, obituaries, classroom ideas, historical problems, and quotations, as well as official minutes of the society’s annual meetings. Even an occasional song or poem has graced the pages of the Bulletin.

While Historia Mathematica was the official journal of the society from the very beginning, in 1993 the society also grew connections to Philosophia Mathematica when that journal started its third series. The new editor of the journal, Robert Thomas, was a member of the CSHPM and arrangements were made to provide subscriptions to CSHPM members at a reduced price. This association with what was then the only journal in the world devoted specifically to the philosophy of mathematics was a great new benefit for the society. Additional benefits, in the form of reciprocal memberships with the CSHPS and the British Society for the History of Mathematics (BSHM), were added in 1997.

Fig 4-Display Board
Figure 4. CSHPM display from its 2005 joint meeting with CMS.
Photo by Tom Drucker.

Since its founding in 1974, meetings have been held every Spring or Summer except for 2020 (due to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic). Annual meetings have most often been held in conjunction with the Learned Societies Conference (now called the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences), and such meetings have frequently contained joint sessions with the CSHPS, the Canadian Philosophical Association (CPA), the Canadian Mathematics Education Study Group (CMESG), and the Canadian Society for the History of Medicine (CSHM). In other years, the CSHPM has held their annual meeting in conjunction with the Canadian Mathematical Society (and the CSHPM has also organized sessions in the history and philosophy of mathematics at most of the CMS Winter meetings over the last twenty years). Beginning in 1997, joint meetings with the BSHM have been held in Canada, Britain, Ireland, the United States, and online. There have also been two annual meetings held with the History of Mathematics and Philosophy of Mathematics special interest groups of the Mathematical Association of America.

In 1988, the CSHPM began publishing Proceedings of each annual meeting. Initially, the Proceedings were available only to members of the society and were not shared with the public, and authors retained full copyright to their work and were free to publish it elsewhere. Twenty-six volumes of these internal Proceedings were created, sharing nearly 500 papers on both history and philosophy of mathematics with the membership. Starting with the 2014 annual meeting, the CSHPM entered into a contract with Birkhäuser to publish the Proceedings under the title Research in History and Philosophy of Mathematics in both eBook and print formats (with the publisher also allowing for the purchase of individual papers rather than the full volume). In 2019, the Proceedings were renamed the Annals of the Canadian Society for History and Philosophy of Mathematics and opened up to allow for the publication of some papers that had not been presented at the corresponding annual meeting.

Fig 5a-Proceedings 1988
Fig 5b-Proceedings 2014

Figure 5. First volume of the Proceedings (1988) alongside the first volume published by Birkhäuser (2014).

We can conclude with a brief history of this column. First established in the March-April 2014 edition of the CMS Notes, the Notes from the CSHPM column has endeavored to continue to build connections between the members of the CMS and the CSHPM, and to share information about current research in history and philosophy of mathematics with the wider mathematical community. This column is the 60th installment in that series, and we are grateful for the positive response these columns have received.

Michael Molinsky is a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Maine at Farmington. He has been a member of the CSHPM for over twenty years, and in the past he has served as both Webmaster and Archivist for the society.

Email the author: michael.molinsky@maine.edu
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