Person: Wussing, Hans
Hans Wussing was a German mathematician who was one of the most important historians of mathematics and science.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- After studying at primary school for three years, Hans began his secondary school education where he soon developed a great interest in chemistry, physics and mathematics.
- This drafted all boys born in 1926 or 1927, which included Wussing, into the military where they were supervised by the Hitler youth who began a programme of ideological indoctrination.
- In 1944, when he reached the age of 17, Wussing was drafted into the German army and sent to Belgium.
- We should note that, as a consequence of his experiences during the war, Wussing had a deep hatred for war and Fascism for the rest of his life.
- Perhaps one of the most surprising facts about Wussing is that he became a mathematician by mistake rather than by design.
- While he was studying at Leipzig University, Wussing met his fellow student Gerlinde Walter.
- She, like Wussing, had completed her secondary education in 1947 and, again like him, was studying a course at Leipzig University to qualify as a secondary school mathematics teacher.
- In 1951 Hans and Gerlinde took the state examination and they qualified as high school teachers of mathematics and physics.
- Both Hans and Gerlinde had joined this Party in June 1947, a year after its formation in April 1946.
- Wussing completed his doctoral studies and was awarded a doctorate for his thesis Über Einbettungen endlicher Gruppen Ⓣ(On embedding finite groups) in 1957.
- The direction that Wussing's career would take after 1957 was less than clear.
- Through her Wussing learnt that Gerhard Harig was about to take over as head of the Karl Sudhoff Institute at Leipzig University and that he aimed to make it an Institute, which had previously only covered the history of medicine, into the Karl Sudhoff Institute for the History of Medicine and Science.
- Harig was looking to appoint staff in the area of the history of mathematics and science to the Institute and although Wussing was not qualified as a historian of science, nevertheless he was a member of the Socialist Unity Party which was highly influential at the university.
- Both Harig and Wussing shared beliefs in a Marxist philosophy which strongly influenced their writing.
- Wussing was appointed as an assistant at the Karl Sudhoff Institute in 1957 and began working on his habilitation thesis on the history of mathematics.
- Following Harig's death in 1966, Wussing became acting director of the Karl Sudhoff Institute in 1967.
- Following in the tradition of Gerhard Harig, Hans Wussing was one of the most important persons in the field history of mathematics and history of science in the German Democratic Republic and one of their representative in the international scientific community.
- We have already noted Wussing's Marxist beliefs.
- Wussing was, as mention in the quote above, an editor of NTM - Schriftenreihe für Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften, Technik und Medizin (The Journal for the history of science, technology, and medicine) from 1967 and strongly supported this journal by publishing in it and encouraging his students to publish in this journal published in Leipzig.
- Let us now look briefly at some of the books that Wussing has published.
- As an illustration of Wussing's own description of his aims in treating the history of mathematics, we quote from the Preface to 'Hans Wussing et al, Vom Zahlstein zum Computer: Mathematik in der Geschichte.
- Volume 1: Uberblick und Biographien' Ⓣ(Hans Wussing et al, From Number stone to Computer: Mathematics in history.
- The mathematical historian Wussing gives a detailed answer to this question in the first chapter of this introduction: The occupation with the history of mathematics is an intellectual adventure, in which one can experience the suspense of how mathematics has evolved, how much hardship and error it took people from the first beginnings in the dim and distant past to erect - over the millennia - the magnificent mental structure whose contents and methods have become the foundation and indispensable apparatus for the development of all technology, the sciences, medicine, business and industry, and which, in the form of the computer, have practically embraced every aspect of modern life.
- Wussing received many honours for his outstanding contributions to the history of mathematics.
- The second award was to Christoph Scriba and Hans Wussing at the 19th International Congress of History of Science in Zaragoza, Spain in 1993.
- Those who had the good fortune to meet Hans Wussing, not only at scientific congresses and conferences, but also in small discussion groups and those, moreover, who had the good fortune to meet and talk to him privately, will never forget his great knowledge and intelligence, his sense of humor and his kindness.
- Wussing retired in 1992 but continued to work on the history of science, in particular publishing works aimed at presenting the history of mathematics to non-experts.
- The Karl Sudhoff Institute, in which the history of mathematics had flourished under Wussing's leadership, changed after his retirement.
- The change in emphasis at the Institute was a cause for sadness for Wussing over the final years of his life although he was encouraged by the successes of his students.
Born 15 October 1927, Waldheim, Germany. Died 26 April 2011, Leipzig, Germany.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
Astronomy, Group Theory, Origin Germany
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive