University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science > Cambridge mathematics in the north: Peter Guthrie Tait, Philip Kelland and the local nature of mathematics in Edinburgh, 1858–65

Cambridge mathematics in the north: Peter Guthrie Tait, Philip Kelland and the local nature of mathematics in Edinburgh, 1858–65

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This article relates to mathematics in Edinburgh leading up to and just following the Universities Act (Scotland) in 1858. Philip Kelland, Professor of Mathematics from 1838, and Peter Guthrie Tait, Professor of Natural Philosophy from 1860, were both Cambridge-trained Senior Wranglers. Yet, neither actor advocated a wholesale implementation of Cambridge-style Tripos examination in Edinburgh, despite the fact that the Universities Act provided them with the cultural space and impetus to do so. Tait and Kelland also collaborated on the development of the highly analytical mathematics of quaternions, though neither actor sought to impose this form of geometrical analysis on his students. Thus, despite their collective potential to serve as conduits through which Cambridge mathematics, or at least an analysis-heavy curriculum, could have been more explicitly imposed in the north, neither Kelland nor Tait enforced such a transformation. Rather, their contributions to the development of mathematical curricula in Edinburgh were shaped more by the university’s institutional and cultural geography (where natural philosophy was privileged over and above symbolical mathematics) than by their own rigid training in Cambridge-style mathematics. In sum, this article explores the Scottish case study of Kelland and Tait to argue that mathematical knowledge is not simply transferable, but is heavily dependent upon local conditions.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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