TCNJ's Department of Mathematics & Statistics would like to welcome:
Michael J,. Barany, Princeton University
Thursday, February 11, at 3:30 am in SCP 117
“Taking Nicolas Bourbaki Personally: How the most intriguing mathematician in modern history tried (and failed, twice) to join the American Mathematical Society”
Nicolas Bourbaki is widely considered one of the most influential mathematicians of the twentieth century, and is arguably the most intriguing mathematician in modern history. Part of his intrigue comes from the fact that while Bourbaki was a prolific author and had a strong personality and sense of humor, he did not (unlike most mathematicians) have a birth certificate, a passport, or even a body, having been born instead as the collective enterprise of a radical group of French mathematicians in the 1930s. Despite these apparent limitations, Bourbaki tried twice in the late 1940s to join the American Mathematical Society, and was unsuccessful in both attempts. Examining the original application forms and the American Mathematical Society's reactions to them, I will characterize Bourbaki's life and times in the context of the rapidly transforming global mathematics community in the mid-twentieth century. A central question for all of Bourbaki's interlocutors (including the AMS) in this period was Bourbaki's status as an individual person, collective institution, or something (or someone!) in between, and the stakes of that status could be quite high. I will thus explain what it meant to take Bourbaki personally, and why that mattered to a changing mathematical discipline.
Bio: Michael J. Barany is a Ph.D. candidate in Princeton University’s Program in History of Science, where he studies the history of modern mathematics. One of his favorite academic experiences was teaching HIS 120: Science in Modern Europe at TCNJ in the Fall 2013 semester. He has published over two dozen articles and reviews on a wide range of subjects, including an op-ed on the history of the Fields Medal in the New York Times, a feature story on the history of counting in the magazine New Scientist, and two essays selected for the annual Best Writing on Mathematics anthology. You can find these writings and more at http://mbarany.com.