Lehman Distinguished Professor Awarded Mathematical Society’s Coveted Whiteman Prize

January 6, 2012 11:10 am History Dept, Research

Distinguished Professor Joseph Dauben (Photo by C. Chen)

Dr. Joseph W. Dauben, a Distinguished Professor of History and the History of Science at Lehman College, has received the 2012 AMS Albert Leon Whiteman Memorial Prize. The coveted award is presented to a scholar only once every three years by the American Mathematical Society (AMS).

The oldest professional society in the United States devoted to the promotion of mathematics, AMS was originally founded as the New York Mathematical Society in 1888. It became a national society, and was renamed the American Mathematical Society, in 1894 and remains the oldest and most prestigious society for mathematics in the U.S. He received the prize January 5 at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in Boston.

“This is a momentous occasion in the career of Professor Dauben,” said Lehman President Ricardo R. Fernández, “and further evidence of the distinguished contribution he has made to his field.”

In its citation, the Society notes that Professor Dauben is being honored “for his contributions to the history of Western and Chinese mathematics, and for deepening and broadening the international mathematical community’s awareness and understanding of its history and culture.”

The citation also points out that “in the United States, the history of mathematics, once an excellent but eclectic collection of teaching tools and post-retirement projects, has in the last few decades become an integral component of the mathematical community, with well-attended sessions at major meetings. Joe Dauben has spurred this professionalism by his scholarly example and through his service to the profession, which includes organizing international workshops and symposia and editing [the journal] Historia Mathematica for a decade.”

In his response to the award, Professor Dauben thanked the Society and cited many mentors and colleagues here and abroad who have inspired, influenced and collaborated on his studies. But, he added, “it is my home institution, Herbert H. Lehman College, to which I must say a special thank-you for the resources and encouragement it gives to faculty, especially for their research and participation in conferences and projects involving the larger academic community of scholars.” In particular, he pointed to the College’s recent support of his work on a compendium of mathematics from ancient China, Nine Chapters on the Art of Mathematics. 

“What sets the history of mathematics apart from the history of science generally,” he said, “is that it is not an arcane history about past theories that have been discarded, forgotten as failed attempts to understand the workings of nature, but instead the history of mathematics is a living history….Mathematicians, more than any other practitioners among the sciences, have a very real interest in their history—not just to remember the past, but to use it.”

Professor Dauben, who is also a faculty member of the Ph.D. Program in History at the CUNY Graduate Center, has published two biographies—Abraham Robinson: The Creation of Non-Standard Analysis, A Personal and Mathematical Odyssey (Princeton University Press, 1995) and George Cantor: His Mathematics and Philosophy of the Infinite (Harvard University Press, 1979)—in addition to dozens of articles and reviews, especially in the field of ancient and modern Chinese mathematics.

He is a fellow of the New York Academy of Sciences, a membre effectif of the International Academy of History of Science, a member of both the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and the Society of Fellows of the American Academy in Rome, and an honorary member of the Institute for History of Natural Sciences of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, where he was the Zhu Kezhen Visiting Professor in Spring 2005. In 2010 he was Visiting Research Professor at the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences at National Chiao-Tung University in Hsinchu (Taiwan). He also has served as chairman of the International Commission on the History of Mathematics.

Professor Dauben graduated from Claremont McKenna College, magna cum laude, in mathematics, and earned his A.M. and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard University in the history of science. He has been a member of the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton) and Clare Hall (Cambridge University) and has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, as well as a Senior NEH and ACLS Fellowships. He was given an Outstanding Research Award by the Lehman College Foundation from 1998-2000, and in 1986 was named Lehman’s Outstanding Teacher of the Year.

The American Mathematical Society has more than 30,000 members. It works to fulfill its mission through programs and services that promote mathematical research and its uses, strengthen mathematical education, and foster awareness and appreciation of mathematics and its connections to other disciplines and to everyday life.