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Making Mathematics in an Oral Culture: Göttingen in the Era of Klein and Hilbert

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 June 2004

David E. Rowe
AG History of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, Mainz University


This essay takes a close look at specially selected features of the Göttingen mathematical culture during the period 1895–1920. Drawing heavily on personal accounts and archival resources, it describes the changing roles played by Felix Klein and David Hilbert, as Göttingen's two senior mathematicians, within a fast-growing community that attracted an impressive number of young talents. Within the course of these twenty-five years Göttingen exerted a profound impact on mathematics and physics throughout the world. Many factors contributed to the creation of a special atmosphere that served as a model for several other important centers for mathematical research. Göttingen exemplified a dynamic new way of doing mathematics within a highly competitive community in which the spoken word often carried more weight than did information conveyed in written texts. This oral dimension of the Göttingen culture played an important, till now overlooked role in the early development of Einstein's general theory of relativity.

© 2004 Cambridge University Press

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