In theory, just about anyone can be a mathematician. Theorems and proofs, for the most part, don’t discriminate based on race, class, gender, disability, national origin, or anything else, at least in principle. Historically, however, the field and profession has been open to very few. Mathematicians have grappled in many different ways with this gap between an ideal of openness and a reality of exclusion and even outright discrimination. I will show how American mathematicians took leadership of the international mathematics community over the period between 1920, when they first proposed to host an International Congress of Mathematicians, and 1950, when they finally brought one to fruition. American mathematicians tried to reshape mathematics as a more interconnected and inclusive discipline, succeeding in some ways and failing in others. In particular, they tried to create what they called a “truly international” discipline. I will explain how this ambiguous and shifting phrase helped them navigate a wide range of political, financial, and other obstacles, while covering over persistent problems and blindspots.
Open to the Colby community only