In the first of our series of Oxford Mathematicians we feature G H Hardy (1877-1947). Hardy was the most important British pure mathematician of the first half of the 20th century. Although he is usually thought of as a Cambridge man, his years from 1920 to 1931 as Savilian Professor of Geometry at Oxford University were actually his happiest and most productive. At Oxford he was at the prime of his creative life, and wrote over 100 papers there, including many of his most important investigations with his long-term Cambridge collaborator J E Littlewood.
Our second mathematician is John Wallis. Wallis (1616–1703), Oxford’s Savilian Professor of Geometry from 1649 to 1703, was the most influential English mathematician before the rise of Isaac Newton. His most important works were his 'Arithmetic of Infinitesimals' and his treatise on Conic Sections, both published in the 1650s. It was through studying the former that Newton came to discover his version of the binomial theorem. Wallis’s last great mathematical work, 'A Treatise of Algebra', was published in his seventieth year.
If Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) had not written Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, he’d probably be remembered as a pioneer photographer. But his Oxford ‘day job’ was as Lecturer in Mathematics at Christ Church. What mathematics did he do?
Three Savilian Professors of Geometry dominated Oxford’s mathematical scene during the Victorian era: Baden Powell (1796–1860), Henry John Stephen Smith (1826–83) and James Joseph Sylvester (1814–97). None was primarily a geometer, but each brought a different contribution to the role.
In its first five hundred years Oxford University had many fine mathematicians, astronomers and philosophers – from the Merton scholars of the early 14th century to the newly appointed Savilian Professors of Geometry and Astronomy in the 17th century. Indeed some of the most sophisticated mathematical discussions of the Middle Ages took place at Oxford in the 14th century.
In our final series of Oxford Mathematics History Posters we look at Oxford’s role in the development of Newtonian philosophy in the 18th Century. In particular we focus on Edmond Halley, the most famous English astronomer of his day and Savilian Professor of Geometry, and Thomas Hornsby, Sedleian Professor of Natural Philosophy and founder of the Radcliffe Observatory which appropriately now sits close to the new Mathematical Institute.