Seminar at SMU Delhi

February 28, 2018 (Wednesday) , 3:30 PM at Webinar
Speaker: Michael Barany, Dartmouth College
Title: Organization Men: Bourbaki and the identity of international mathematicians and mathematics in the mid-twentieth century
Abstract of Talk
In 1948, the American Mathematical Society received an application for membership from Nicolas Bourbaki, the pen name of a radical group of French mathematicians then rewriting the foundations of modern mathematics. While that application was quietly dismissed, a second application a year later and the correspondence it provoked together expose significant fault lines beneath the Americans’ efforts to lead an international discipline in the wake of World War II. I will draw on a wide range of archival sources to situate Bourbaki’s applications amidst the distinctive ways mathematicians established their identities in interaction with professional institutions in the mid-twentieth century. I will show how Bourbaki’s advocates parodied and exploited the new ways mathematicians tied themselves together in international networks, with effects on everything from their communication to their very concepts and theories. Long-distance international connections shaped these activities from the start, with Damodar Kosambi's ties to French and American mathematicians playing a key early role in the story of Bourbaki's personhood. I will conclude by exploring how mathematicians' changing relationships to international organizations have defined the discipline at a global scale since the 1950s.