A Tour of the USMA Library
For anyone studying the history of mathematics, it is crucial that you learn to
use the resources in the library. This web page indicates the types of things
that we will look at during our library tour. This page has been posted to assist
anyone whose memory is faulty.
We begin at the Mathematics Department Library.
When we enter we immediately notice the display about
BG (Ret) Jack Polin who served as
Head of the department from 1974 to 1985.
For our use, undoubtedly the most important work in this library is the
- Biographical dictionary of mathematicians : reference
biographies from the Dictionary of scientific biography.
QA28 .B534 1991
Nota Bene: If you click on the call numbers in this document and
then click on it again on the page which appears, you will get the full
reference in the USMA library catalog.
This is useful because it contains biographical information about deceased
mathematicians and also describes their work. This work in four volumes is a
subset (only the mathematicians are chosen) of a work in the reference section
of the main library:
It is a work in sixteen volumes plus two supplementary volumes. Take a volume down off the shelf and open it up. Note that after the name of each individual the field in which they worked is given. Page through until you find an entry dealing with a mathematician. Skim through the article and note that it begins with biographical information and then proceeds to the mathematical work that that individual did. It ends with a bibliography; first works by the individual and then secondary works about the individual. The first portion of the bibliography will indicate if the individual's collected works have been published (but they may be called 'Selected Works' or 'Papers' or 'Gesammelte Abhandlungen' or some such). The articles can be quite short (half a column) or very long (some exceed 20 pages) depending on the import of the individual. Most of the articles in this work are excellent, but a few are not very good.
- Dictionary of scientific biography, Charles
Coulston Gillispie, editor in chief. REF
Q141 .D5 1981.
For example in the article on J. J. Sylvester, we found the following secondary reference:
We will look this up over in the main library for it is quite interesting. Sylvester was denied a degree in England because he was Jewish so came to Virginia. There was also opposition to him there, but not as much. He left after only a few months because of rumors that he killed a student.
Incidentally, Yates taught at West Point, so he would be an interesting person
to study. Enough of this aside, lets get back to what is in the mathematics
- R. C. Yates, "Sylvester at the University of Virginia," American Mathematical Monthly, 44 (1937), 194-201.
While in this section note the works around you. You will find some
encyclopedias and dictionaries of mathematics. These are very handy when you
encounter a word or theorem that you don't recognize. The standard histories of
mathematics by Boyer (QA21
.B767) and Eves (QA21
.E8 1976) are also here, but not the best available survey book, that by
Victor Katz (you can borrow a copy from Dr. Shell or Dr. Rickey). You will also find a number of biographies of mathematicians,
including works about Banach (QA29.B33
K3513 1995), Erdos (QA29.E86
S34 1998), Gauss (QA29.G3
B83 1981), Hadamard (QA29.H18
M39 1998), Hilbert (QA29.H5
R4), Nash (QA29.N25
N37 1998), Ramanujan (QA29.R3
K36 1991), Robinson (QA29.R575
R45 1996), von Neumann (QA29.W497
A3), and Wiener (QA29.W497
There are a number of useful books in this section of the mathematics library,
so let's point out a few:
- Vita mathematica : historical research and integration with
teaching / Ronald Calinger, editor.
QA7 .V57 1996 . You might find this a good source of articles to
- NCTM Yearbook on Multi-Sensory Aids in the Classroom.
QA1 .N3 . This is old enough to be a historical document in its own right.
- Napier tercentenary memorial volume; ed. by Cargill Gilston Knott.
QA29.N2 K5 . If you are interested in the invention of logarithms this is
a wonderful source.
However, you should be aware that not all books dealing with the history of
mathematics are in this section. If the book deals with the a specific area of
mathematics it is often (but not always) classified with that area of
mathematics. For example,
- Analysis by its history / E. Hairer, G. Wanner.
QA300 .H352 1996 . This is a textbook in analysis that was written for
German students. It is loaded with historical information.
- West Point's Scientific 200 : celebration of the bicentennial,
biographies of 200 of West Point's most successful and influential
mathematicians, scientists, engineers, and technologists / by Chris Arney.
U410.M19 A76 2002 . A number of West Point mathematicians are detailed
here, so take a look. This is a source of future projects, if you want to do
a biographical study.
OK, now it is time to move over to the main library.
The first thing we shall do is look at
- Dictionary of scientific biography, Charles
Coulston Gillispie, editor in chief. REF
Q141 .D5 1981.
Since we looked at the mathematical portion of this in the Mathematics Library
we shall only point out that volume 16 contains some interesting articles of a
general nature, such as one about Mayan mathematics. Also in the reference area
there are a great number of works that can be of use.
- American women in science : a biographical dictionary /
Martha J. Bailey.
Q141 .B25 1994 .
The history of mathematics section (QA 21) has a number of interesting books,
- Oxford figures : 800 years of the mathematical sciences /
edited by John Fauvel, Raymond Flood and Robin Wilson.
QA14.G73 O947 2000
- Journey through genius : the great theorems of mathematics
/ William Dunham.
QA21 .D78 1991
- Mathematical people : profiles and interviews / editors
Donald J. Albers and G.L. Alexanderson, introduction by Philip J.
QA28 .M37 1985 . This gem contains interviews with contemporary
mathematicians. It's not history, but something all mathematics majors
should look at.
- The shaping of deduction in Greek mathematics : a study in
cognitive history / Reviel Netz.
QA27.G8 N47 1999 . Professor Netz is THE current authority on
Greek Mathematics. This is a tough but worthwhile read.
- The crest of the peacock : the non-European roots of
mathematics / George Gheverghese Joseph.
QA22 .J67 2000 . A nice book about non-Western mathematics. Quite
- Mathematical thought from ancient to modern times / Morris
QA21 .K516 . This is where I go when I want to learn the history
of an area of mathematics when I don't know the mathematics well.
Again, not everything is in one place. Let's note a few things that are not in
the history section:
- Never at rest : a biography of Isaac Newton / Richard S.
QC16.N7 W35 . The best biography of Newton.
- Philosophers at war : the quarrel between Newton and
Leibniz / A. Rupert Hall.
QA303 .H16 . Deals only with the non-mathematical part of the
feud. An excellent work.
- Mathematical circles squared; a third collection of
mathematical stories and anecdotes / Howard W. Eves.
QA99 .E842 . These books are gems. They are collections of
- The history of non-euclidean geometry : evolution of the
concept of a geometric space / B.A. Rosenfeld.
QA685 .R6713 1988 . An excellent book about Non-Euclidean
- The mathematical papers of Isaac Newton, edited by D. T.
Whiteside with the assistance in publication of M. A. Hoskin.
QA35 .N5647 . These 8 volumes represent the absolute best set of
a scientist's collected works that have ever been published. Take a
- Galileo, man of science. Edited by Ernan McMullin.
QB36.G2 G62 . Nothing about Galileo is in the mathematics
section. The conference on which this book was based was my
introduction to the history of science.
Now let's move into the other room (of the basement stacks) and look at a couple
of journals. These are arranged alphabetically so there are no call numbers.
- Historia mathematica. A superb journal on the
history of mathematics. The articles are in a variety of
languages, but mostly English. A good place to look for articles
to read for one of your projects.
- Isis; an international review devoted to the history
of science and its cultural influences microform. The
best general journal in the history of science. Not too much
mathematics here, but you can read what is here. Excellent book
- Mathematics magazine. An excellent place to
look for articles to read. Pick from the list that have won
Awards for excellent exposition.
- The American mathematical monthly. Some of
these have won the
so choose among them.
Finally we must make one more stop, the Indexes
and Databases that are available on line.
- MathSciNet is the one I use most often but it is very high
level. This is a comprehensive review of the World's
mathematical literature since 1940 (why that date?). Currently
it surveys 1700 serials. Today about 50,000 papers are reviewed
each year, and this includes only those which contain original
research. Thus although you are mostly unaware of it, a great
amount of mathematics is published each year. If you search
section 01 you will find the history papers.
- JSTOR, which stands for Journal STORage contains the full
text of many journals. If you are looking for an article from
The American Mathematical Monthly, Mathematics Magazine, or The
College Mathematics Journal, it is easier to print out a copy
from this database than to go to the library. A number of
History of Science Journals are also here, including Isis.
- There are many more data bases available to us, but which
one you use depends on what you want to find. The only one you
can't use from your desk is World Cat which links together
libraries from around the country and has about 30 million
Hopefully this introduction to the historical materials in the USMA library will
be useful to you.
Later we will take a look at some of the rare books in the collection. But
before we do that you need to tell me about your special interests.
Prepared by V. Frederick Rickey, 22