Mathematics

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Origins

Mathematics has been studied at the University of Edinburgh from its very foundation in 1583. The Chair of Mathematics moved into of the Faculty of Arts when it was established as a distinct entity in 1708.

Andrew Young (d1623), who had been a Regent since 1600, was created 'Public Professor of Mathematics' in 1620. Regent Thomas Craufurd was also called 'Professor of Mathematics' from 1640 until his death in 1662. The first dedicated Professor came twelve years after Craufurd's death and was James Gregory (1638-1675), who was appointed in 1674 but died the following year. He was succeeded by John Young (fl1676-1683). Young taught Mathematics after Gregory's death but his competency to do so was challenged by Archibald Pitcairne (1652-1713) and he was dismissed.

Next came two of Gregory's two nephews in turn, first David Gregory (1659-1708), and then his brother James Gregory (1666-1742). The three Gregorys were all enthusiastic supporters of Isaac Newton and incorporated his ideas into their teaching, ideas which at that time were controversial and considered quite revolutionary.

Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

Colin Maclaurin (1698-1746) joined the younger James Gregory in 1725, formally as his assistant but actually undertaking his duties, as Gregory was unable to teach because of poor health. As an assistant, Maclaurin was not entitled to a salary. However Newton, who by then was Master of the Mint and had a very high opinion of Maclaurin's ability, offered to contribute £20 per annum towards his support. Maclaurin eventually succeeded Gregory as Professor of Mathematics in 1742 and occupied the Chair until his own death in 1746. He was a mathematician of considerable international repute, described in the Dictionary of National Biography as "the one mathematician of first rank trained in Great Britain in the eighteenth century". A brilliant lecturer, his courses covered a whole range of topics from geometry, trigonometry, algebra and calculus to optics, astronomy and even the theory of gunnery. He also advised the Church of Scotland when it set up a fund to provide pensions for the widows of ministers - some say that this represented the birth of actuarial science.

Matthew Stewart (1717-1785) succeeded Maclaurin in 1746. He had attended Maclaurin's lectures during the 1742/3 academic year and had already published Some General Theorems of Considerable use in the Higher Parts of Mathematics. When, in 1772, his health began to deteriorate, his duties as professor at Edinburgh were initially shared, then taken over by his son, Dugald Stewart (1753-1828), who, in 1785, moved to the Chair of Moral Philosophy, succeeding Adam Ferguson (1723-1816) there while Ferguson moved to Mathematics.

Ferguson held the Chair jointly with, John Playfair (1748-1819) and they were followed by Sir John Leslie (1766-1832) in 1805. These were men who were typical of their time, the age of the Scottish Enlightenment. They were all-round scholars who could well move from a chair in Moral Philosophy to one in Mathematics or from one in Mathematics to Natural Philosophy.

The nineteenth century saw the controversial appointment of the Rev Philip Kelland as Professor of Mathematics. He was the first Englishman with an entirely English education admitted to a chair in the University and held the Chair for 41 years. He would have taught James Clerk Maxwell, one of the great scientists of the nineteenth century and perhaps Scotland's greatest.

Kelland was succeeded by George Chrystal who, although an applied mathematician, is best known for his book on Algebra. This was intended for secondary schools and indeed remained a standard text well into the twentieth century. The Faculty of Science was created in 1893, during Chrystal's tenure of office, but Mathematics was to remain within the Arts Faculty for some time to come.

Twentieth Century

Chrystal's successor, Sir Edmund Taylor Whittaker, was appointed in 1912. He was a highly influential figure within UK mathematics, with interests spanning many areas, and the Department flourished under the 34 years of his leadership. The second half of the twentieth century saw a substantial increase in the size of the Department, from around 12 members of staff to over 40. A second Chair of Mathematics, named after Colin Maclaurin, was created in 1964 followed by a Chair of Applied Mathematics in 1968.

Statistics had been taught within the mathematics curriculum for many years - indeed, Whittaker's successor, Alexander Aitken, was an eminent theoretical statistician. In 1966 a separate Chair of Statistics was created and with it a separate Department within the then Faculty of Science. At the same time, Mathematics finally moved from the Arts to the Science Faculty. However, the two Departments came together again in 1991 in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics and, with the restructuring of the University in 2002, this transformed into the School of Mathematics in the College of Science and Engineering.

Adapted from text by the School of Mathematics

Professors of Mathematics

Main Chair

James Gregory (1638-1675), 1674-1675

John Young (fl1675-1683), 1675-1683

David Gregory (1659-1708), 1683-

James Gregory (1666-1742), 1692-

Colin Maclaurin (1698-1746), 1725-

Matthew Stewart (c1717-1785), 1747-

from DATE, jointly with his son

Dugald Stewart (1753-1828), 1775-1785

Adam Ferguson (1723-1816), 1785-1805?

jointly with

John Playfair (1748-1819), 1785-1805

Sir John Leslie (1766-1832), 1805-1819

William Wallace (1768-1843), 1819-1837

Philip Kelland (1808-1879), 1838-1879

George Chrystal (1851-1911), 1879-

Sir Edmund Taylor Whittaker (1873-1956), 1912-1946

Alexander Craig Aitken (1895-1967), 1946-1965

Arthur Erdélyi (1908-1977), 1964-1977

Maclaurin Chair

A second Chair, instituted 1964

Frank Featherstone Bonsall (1920-2011), 1965-1984

Terry Lyons, 1985-1993

Chair of Applied Mathematics

Andrew George Mackie (1927-), 1968-

Benedict Joseph Leimkuhler, 2006-

Chair of Statistics

David John Finney (1917- ), 1966-1984