London Mathematical Society Hirst Prize and Lectureship

30 June 2015

The London Mathematical Society announced on 3 July 2015 that: Dr John O'Connor and Professor Edmund Robertson, of the University of St Andrews, are awarded the Hirst Prize and Professor Edmund Robertson will be invited to give the associated Hirst Lectureship for their creation, development and maintenance of the MacTutor History of Mathematics web site.

The London Mathematical Society decided to award a one-off prize as a part of the celebrations to mark the LMS 150th Anniversary. The Prize regulations stated:

The HIRST PRIZE AND LECTURESHIP FOR THE HISTORY OF MATHEMATICS - For contributions to the study of the history of mathematics. The prize will be awarded in recognition of original and innovative work in the history of mathematics, which may be in any medium.

John O'Connor and Edmund Robertson created the MacTutor History of Mathematics web site in the early-1990s as enrichment for the Mathematical MacTutor system developed at St Andrews to support the teaching of undergraduate mathematics. By 1995 the web site contained some 1000 biographies of past mathematicians - 200 fuller biographies with portraits and 800 shorter biographies - and about 20 articles on the history of mathematics, and it received some 90000 hits a month. Since then O'Connor and Robertson have continued to develop and maintain the web site so that it has grown larger, more sophisticated and more reliable. Now it has over 2800 detailed biographies of mathematicians and related scientists with bibliographies (primary and secondary sources) accompanying each article, around 150 historical articles on mathematical topics, over 2000 other pages of essays on specific topics and further resources, such as an interactive page on historical curves. The web site has become a hugely successful resource for school-children, undergraduates, graduate students and their teachers all over the world, receiving 10,000,000 hits per month during the academic year, with around 2,000,000 distinct users. It is the first port of call for those interested in the historical side of the mathematical sciences, giving mathematicians direct links to their profession's past. It bridges the gap between old books and modern journals, and its biographies give lives to names otherwise known only for the theorems to which they are attached. It is the most widely used and influential web-based resource in history of mathematics. That it has been created and maintained almost exclusively by O'Connor and Robertson is quite remarkable. Edmund Robertson will be invited to give the Hirst Lectureship as a part of the prize.