Mapping 19th-Century American Mathematical Journals

Projet de recherche de Deborah Kent (Cirmath – octobre 2018)

Throughout the first three quarters of the nineteenth century, termed the ‘’scientific structure-building” period of mathematics in America, mathematical practitioners in the United States worked within the context of general scientific structure building. Geologists, physicists, botanists, and mathematicians worked together to organize scientific societies, develop employment opportunities for scientists, and provide publication outlets. Particular groups of scientists gradually began to adopt similar structures and specialized publications started to appear. The nineteenth century witnessed a series of sputtering attempts to start a specialized mathematical periodical in the United States. These ongoing efforts offer insight into the culture and challenges of mathematical publication in the United States.

Existing research suggests that distances separating hopeful mathematicians were too great, and the number of accomplished practitioners was simply too small to prevail against the challenges of founding and sustaining a specialized mathematical periodical until the 1878 founding of the American Journal of Mathematics. Cirmath approaches to mapping publications, contributors, subscribers, and institutions promise additional insights, particularly since late nineteenth century advancements in the American mathematical community echoed the development in the country as a whole. At the time, thousands of miles of new railroads catalyzed westward growth as nineteenth-century industrialization brought unprecedented wealth and expansion.

In this context, the growth, transition and change within the mathematical community mirrored the progress and industrialization of the country as a whole. By the early twentieth century, the American mathematical community had fostered a certain momentum both from its own constituents and from the forward energy of America itself. Universities adopted a three-tiered mission of undergraduate education, research, and the training of future researchers amid growing concern about admission, curriculum, and graduation requirements. As centers of mathematical research grew and practices developed, what it meant to be a mathematician in the American context stretched to embrace the production of new mathematical knowledge and the seminar-style education of graduate students. Meanwhile, specialized mathematical publications developed to circulate the newly-mandated research output.

The earliest mathematics appeared in general science journals published under the auspices of societies located in east coast population centers. Between 1800 and 1860, there were also at least nine di_erent specifically mathematical journals that started in the United States and ended after brief publication runs. Many of these early journals exhibit a shared sense of hopeful experimentation, implementing varied ideas about content and practices that might sustain a mathematical publication. To be an editor capable of initiating a specialized midnineteenth-century American mathematical periodical demanded a substantial devotion of time and energy, in addition to the required combination of location, mathematical expertise, personal connections, and good marketing skills. To boost sales, editors often appealed to nationalistic sentiments in their prefaces and advertising copy similarly revealed a strong patriotic streak. Each of the specialized mathematical journals faced the common challenges of mathematical typesetting and sparse contributors.

The details of each of the early journals differ – some editors produced highly idiosyncratic and local, while others Existing evidence suggests the same constellation of reasons for repeated brief publication runs: editorial overwork, internal squabbles, insufficient subscriptions, personal challenges, and financial difficulties. Additional work to compile and map the central actors will likely support a working hypothesis that many of these sporadic attempts to found and sustain specialized American periodical publications dedicated to mathematics were, in fact, all part of a single, coordinated effort.

Along with the appearance (and disappearance) of specialized journals, other periodicals, including general scientific journals, educational journals, and trade publications also printed mathematical content in nineteenth-century America, as did some newspapers and trade publications. It is a large task to undertake analysis of these many publications and mapping tools promise to highlight networks and linkages between people and publications, as well as the relevance of geographical features and institutional infrastructure, particularly in a context of rapid change and growth.

The nineteenth century brought an active era in specialized mathematical publication in the United States and, towards the end, witnessed the rise of something entirely new in America – a university supported journal devoted to research-level mathematics. The early years of the nineteenth-century saw sporadic attempts to found and sustain specialized periodical publications dedicated to mathematics. These print outlets, in particular, illustrate a growing interest in cultivating a critical mass of like-minded mathematicians contributing and editing content to publish and reading, participating in, and sustaining journals. Work with the tools and methodologies of Cirmath will illuminate the dynamics of the American publication communities both before and after the watershed beginning of the American Journal of Mathematics, explicating the roles of people, places, and institutions involved in producing mathematics in periodical publications.