Library Tour

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

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.

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 library.

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 A3).

There are a number of useful books in this section of the mathematics library, so let's point out a few:

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,

OK, now it is time to move over to the main library.

The first thing we shall do is look at

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.

The history of mathematics section (QA 21) has a number of interesting books, including

Again, not everything is in one place. Let's note a few things that are not in the history section:

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.

Finally we must make one more stop, the Indexes and Databases that are available on line.

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 January 2003.