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Topic: [HM] Historiography: is mathematical physics part of mathematics?
Replies: 4   Last Post: Mar 1, 1999 5:42 PM

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John F Harper

Posts: 214
Registered: 12/3/04
Re: [HM] Historiography: is mathematical physics part of mathematics?
Posted: Mar 1, 1999 5:28 PM
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On Mon, 1 Mar 1999, David Wilkins wrote:

> A few days ago I borrowed from our university library a copy of
> `A History of Mathematics: an Introduction' (second edition, 1998)
> by Victor J. Katz.

> Reading this stopped me in my tracks. I said to myself `Is Katz
> saying here that Hamilton's work in optics and dynamics is a
> contribution to physics, but not to mathematics?' Looking more
> carefully at the [quoted] extract I see that optics is viewed as
> distinct from `pure' mathematics. Neverthess it does seem that
> dynamics is viewed as lying outside mathematics.
> Maybe there is a transatlantic cultural difference manifesting
> itself here.

Yes, of course. I do theoretical fluid mechanics, and consider myself
to be an applied mathematician. But I trained and have worked in NZ and
UK, where that is normal. A common (but not universal!) view in USA
seems to be that only pure mathematics is really mathematics, and in
most US universities I have visited, the people working on problems
similar to mine are in engineering schools. Most of the American
authors of fluid mechanics books on my shelves are in engineering of
one sort or another, with a few in mathematics departments; the British
are mostly in mathematics departments, but with a sizable minority in
engineering. On the other hand, my university library catalogue uses
the US Library of Congress system. That puts many fluid mechanics books
in applied mathematics, many in engineering, and quite a few in physics!

John Harper, School of Mathematical and Computing Sciences,
Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand
e-mail phone (+64)(4)463 5341 fax (+64)(4)463 5045

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