400 years of Savilian Professors

In 1619 Sir Henry Savile, Warden of Merton College, founded the Chairs of Geometry and Astronomy, the oldest such university positions in England. In November 2019 a one-day meeting was held at the Bodleian Library to celebrate the first 400 years of the professors of Geometry, with contributions from distinguished historians of mathematics, and including reminiscences by the current Savilian professor, Frances Kirwan FRS, of her supervisor Sir Michael Atiyah and other contemporaries.

Oxford University Press has just published these contributions in an attractive book form. Here you will learn about the first 20 Savilian professors, including:

Henry Briggs (co-inventor of logarithms)

John Wallis (who held the position for 54 years and invented the infinity sign)

Edmond Halley (best known for the comet named after him)

John Smith (a non-mathematician who wrote about the waters of Cheltenham)

Henry Smith (who invented the “Cantor set” eight years before Cantor)

James Joseph Sylvester (who was appointed at the age of 69)

G. H. Hardy (from Cambridge, but whose happiest years were in Oxford).

This accessible 256-page book is highly illustrated with over 120 photographs of people and places, title pages, letters, etc. It should appeal to anyone interested in historical mathematics in the context of its times, and in the development of Oxford University.

Robin Wilson will be giving an illustrated lecture on the Savilian professors at a book-launch to be held in Oxford in May. The book can be ordered online with promo code ASPROMP8 to receive a reduction of 30% (£65 reduced to £45.50).

Please contact us for feedback and comments about this page.Last update on 27 Mar 2022 - 18:37.