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:
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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