Kenneth O. May was a mathematician and historian of mathematics of great vision. He recognized the need for a unified international community of historians of mathematics and worked tirelessly over the last nine years of his life to effect such a change.
In 1968, May spearheaded a discussion that ultimately led in 1971 to the founding of the International Commission on the History of Mathematics (ICHM) for the encouragement and promotion of the history of mathematics internationally. As the first Chair of the new ICHM, May worked in two key ways to achieve these goals. In 1972, he coordinated the publication of the first World Directory of Historians of Mathematics, in an effort bring historians of mathematics more easily into contact with one another. Then, in 1974, he brought out the first volume of Historia Mathematica, the international research journal for the history of mathematics overseen by the ICHM. As Historia's first editor, May worked tirelessly to support and to hone the research efforts of historians of mathematics around the world.
Following May's death in 1977, the ICHM sought a suitable means by which to honor the memory of this remarkably selfless contributor to the international community of historians of mathematics. The result was the Kenneth O. May Prize given for outstanding contributions to the history of mathematics and first awarded in 1989 to Dirk J. Struik and Adolf P. Yushkevich on the occasion of the 18th International Congress of History of Science in Hamburg and Munich. In 1993, the ICHM commissioned the Canadian sculptor, Salius Jaskus, to design in bronze the Kenneth O. May Medal as part of the Kenneth O. May Prize.
The next Kenneth O. May Medal and Prize will be awarded in 2021 at the 26th International Congress of History of Science and Technology in Prague (Czech Republic).
To date, the following distinguished historians of mathematics have been recognized for their work through the presentation of the Kenneth O. May Prize and Medal:
Born in 1943, Eberhard Knobloch studied mathematics, classical philology, philosophy, and history of science and technology. In 1972 he completed his PhD in history of science and technology, and in 1976 he passed the habilitation in this subject. Since 1981 he has been Professor of History of Science and Technology at the Technical University of Berlin, since 2002 Academy Professor at the University and at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities (the former Prussian Academy of Sciences). He has promoted the history of mathematics as head of its most important societies, including the ICHM, and as editor of its publication series and journals including Historia Mathematica. Knobloch was President of the International Academy of the History of Science from 2005 to 2007 and President of the European Society for the History of Science from 2006 to 2008. His written record is truly impressive, amounting to some 300 books or papers on history or philosophy of science and technology
Knobloch started his career as a historian of mathematics and science with his pioneering studies on the mathematical work of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. The latter has remained a central point of reference for his scholarly research. He has carried out a series of studies of Leibniz’s theory of determinants and contributions to actuarial mathematics, as well as an impressive number of ground-breaking articles on several aspects of the mathematical work of Leibniz. Particularly notable is his critical edition with commentary of Leibniz’s “De quadratura arithmetica circuii ellipseos et hyperbolae cujus corollarium est trigonometria sine tabulis,” published in 1993 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht). Some of Knobloch’s insights into Leibniz’s analysis are presented at a more general level in his article “Galileo and Leibniz: Different Approaches to Infinity” (Archive for History of Exact Sciences, 54 (1999), pp. 87–99). Knobloch established series 7 and 8 of the Leibniz-Edition and served as its editor for many years. It is no exaggeration to say that he has gained an international reputation as a leading expert for the edition of works of scientists in the period from 1600 to the present. Besides the edition of Leibniz’s works he was involved in the edition of the works of the astronomer Johannes Kepler and in the edition of the letters of the German natural scientist Alexander von Humboldt. As a historian of mathematics Knobloch has not only published on a broad range of topics and figures in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but also made important contributions to the history of probability theory, error theory, determinant theory and to measurement and integration theory in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Roshdi Rashed is an eminent historian of mathematics specializing in Islamic mathematics and its relation with Greek mathematics on the one hand, and influence on modern mathematics on the other hand. He has shed considerable light on the work of several important Islamic mathematicians, including Banū Mūsā, Ibn Qurra, Ibn Sīnā, al-Khāzin, al-Qūhī, Ibn al-Samh, Ibn Hud, and especially Ibn al-Haytham, who stands out as a towering figure of medieval Islamic mathematics. Rashed discovered, edited and translated a large number of manuscripts and through insightful analysis of their contents, has brought out their importance from the point of view of development of mathematics, their intricate relation with the Greek antecedents, and their influence and impact on the later European mathematics. The work has led to a sea change in our understanding of the significance of Islamic contributions, especially from what has now come to be viewed as the golden era of Islamic mathematics. It has also thrown new light on various aspects of Greek mathematics, especially of Apollonius and Diophantus, and their interrelation.
Born in 1936, Roshdi Rashed has spent the most part of his career affiliated with Paris Diderot University (Paris 7), as a researcher sponsored by the French CNRS. Among his several distinctions one may mention the CNRS Bronze Medal (1977), the distinction of Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur (1989) awarded by the President of the French Republic, the Alexandre Koyré Medal (1990), the Prize and Medal from the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences (1999), and the King Faisal International Prize (2007). He has also received several honors from Arabic countries. He has about 40 books and more than 100 papers to his credit. He is a member of several academies, the chief editor of the journal Arabic Sciences and Philosophy: a Historical Journal (Cambridge University Press), and of the collections Histoire des Sciences Arabes (Beyrouth) and Sciences dans l’histoire (Blanchard, Paris). He is a member of scientific committees of the journals Revue de Synthèse (France), Bollettino di storia delle scienze matematiche (Italy), Istoriko-Matematicheskie Issledovaniya (Moscow), Islamic Studies (Pakistan) and Le Journal Scientifique Libanais (Beyrouth).
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The image on the left shows Ubiratan d'Ambrosio receiving the Kenneth O. May Medal at the International Congress on History of Science and Technology in Mexico City, Mexico, in 2001.
The image on the right shows Joseph Dauben presenting the fourth Kenneth O. May Medal to Lam Lay Yong at the International Congress of Mathematics in Beijing, China, 2002
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The second Kenneth O. May Medal presented by Joseph Dauben to Christoph Scriba and Hans Wussing