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Creating the Royal Society's Sylvester Medal


Following the death of James Joseph Sylvester in 1897, contributions were collected in order to mark his life and work by a suitable memorial. This initiative resulted in the Sylvester Medal, which is awarded triennially by the Royal Society for the encouragement of research into pure mathematics. Ironically the main advocate for initiating this medal was not a fellow mathematician but the chemist and naturalist Raphael Meldola. Religion, not mathematics, provided the link between Meldola and Sylvester; they were among the very few Jewish Fellows of the Royal Society. This paper focuses primarily on the politics of the Anglo-Jewish community and why it, together with a number of scientists and mathematicians, supported Meldola in creating the Sylvester Medal.

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I am indebted to the Leverhulme Trust for the award of a Major Research Fellowship, which has enabled me to pursue research for this paper. For permission to quote from unpublished archive material I would like to thank the Royal Society of London, the Maccabæans and the Archives of Imperial College, London. For their generous assistance with various aspects of this project I would like to express my appreciation to the Hartley Library (University of Southampton), Anne Barrett, Norman Biggs, Barbara Cantor, Hannah Gay, Karen Hunger Parshall and two anonymous referees.
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The British Journal for the History of Science
  • ISSN: 0007-0874
  • EISSN: 1474-001X
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-for-the-history-of-science
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