Ivor Grattan-Guinness, 1941-2014

A leading historian of mathematics and logic has died

January 8, 2015

Ivor Grattan-Guinness was born in Bakewell, Derbyshire, on 23 June 1941 and grew up in Huddersfield, where his father (a former maths teacher) was deputy education officer. After secondary schooling at Huddersfield New College, he secured a scholarship to study mathematics at Wadham College, Oxford (1959-62) but was disappointed that the subject was taught without any sense of its historical context – a gap he set out to remedy in much of his future work.

In 1964, after a brief period working at Marconi, he was appointed lecturer in mathematics at Enfield College of Technology. Six months later, he enrolled as a part-time student for a course in the philosophy of science at the London School of Economics. He went on to gain an MSc (1967), a PhD (1969) and a DSc (1978) from the University of London.

Although Enfield College became part of Middlesex Polytechnic in 1973 – itself transformed into Middlesex University in 1992 – Professor Grattan-Guinness spent his whole career there, retiring as emeritus professor of the history of mathematics and logic in 2002. He was also a prolific writer, starting with Development of the Foundations of Mathematical Analysis from Euler to Riemann (1970) and Joseph Fourier (1768-1830) (with J. R. Ravetz, 1972). There followed a mountain of books and papers, notably his three-volume Convolutions in French Mathematics, 1800-1840 (1990) and, as editor, Landmark Writings in Western Mathematics, 1640-1940 (2005). When the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004) was being revised, he was a natural choice as associate editor of mathematics and statistics.

As well as rescuing the moribund journal Annals of Science, Professor Grattan-Guinness founded History and Philosophy of Logic. He was president of the British Society for the History of Mathematics from 1986 to 1989 and used his tenure to drive through its formal constitution. He enjoyed academic meetings, which he called “gigs”, and his happy knack for making his expertise accessible made him a popular speaker. Even his enthusiasm for many different sorts of music had a mathematical link, as when he suggested the presence of numerology in Mozart’s compositions.

Tony Crilly, emeritus reader in mathematical sciences at Middlesex University, praised his former supervisor as “always supportive”, adding that “Ivor Grattan-Guinness was not a talker but a doer, a compulsive writer who made every minute count. His forthright style of operating meant he could occasionally ruffle academic feathers.”

Professor Grattan-Guinness died of heart failure on 12 December 2014 and is survived by his wife Enid.


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