History of the EMS

A History of the Edinburgh Mathematical Society


The Edinburgh Mathematical Society was founded in 1883. This was a time when mathematical societies were being founded around the world. The London Mathematical Society (1865), the Moscow Mathematical Society (1867) and the Societé Mathematique de France (1873) had all been founded in the 20 years before, while the American Mathematical Society (1888) would be founded only a few years later.

However the Edinburgh Mathematical Society was rather different from the others since it was founded by school teachers rather than by university teachers. The initial idea came from two mathematics teachers at George Watson's College in Edinburgh, namely A Y Fraser and A J G Barclay. Together with C G Knott, the professor of physics at the University of Edinburgh, they sent out a letter dated 23 January 1883:-

... to gentlemen in Edinburgh, in Cambridge and throughout Scotland generally...

The letter asked for support for their project:-

It is proposed to establish, primarily in connection with the University, a Society for the mutual improvement of its members in the Mathematical Sciences, pure and applied.

Amongst the methods by which this object might be attained may be mentioned: Reviews of works both British and Foreign, historical notes, discussions of new problems or new solutions, an comparison of the various systems of teaching in different countries, or any other means tending to the promotion of mathematical Education.

The first meeting took place at 8 p.m. on Friday 2 February 1883 in the Mathematical Classroom of Edinburgh University. The first president, elected at the meeting, was J S Mackay, the head mathematics master at The Edinburgh Academy. Of the first ten presidents, seven were school teachers indicating that in its early days the Society was more school based than university based.

At the first ordinary meeting of the Society in March 1883, there 51 members joining the Society. Professor Chrystal addressed the Society on Present fields of mathematical research.

MacTutor links:

History of the EMS
Presidents of the EMS
Treasurers of the EMS
Secretaries of the EMS

EMS Prizes etc:

EMS Whittaker Prize
EMS Honorary Fellows

Other Web site:

EMS Web site


Index of Societies, honours, etc.
Welcome page Biographies Index
History Topics Index Famous curves index
Chronology Time lines
Mathematicians of the day Anniversaries for the year
Search Form Birthplace Maps

JOC/EFR August 2009

The URL of this page is:
http://www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/history/Societies/EMShistory.html