Doris Mary Cannell


Born: 19 July 1913 in Liverpool, England
Died: 18 April 2000 in Nottingham, England


Mary Cannell was brought up in Liverpool where, after winning a scholarship, she attended Merchant Taylors' girls school. After completing her studies at this school she entered the University of Liverpool to study French. As a second subject she studied history.

After completing her first degree, Cannell studied for a postgraduate diploma in education so that she might enter the teaching profession. Indeed she did became a school teacher and taught French. During a spell in France, she taught English.

During World War II Cannell undertook war work lecturing to troops. It was to prompt a change in her career for she then moved into higher education. The rest of her career was spent in training teachers and she progressed to high positions in this area. In 1960 she was appointed as Deputy Principal of Nottingham College of Education. She took on the role of overseeing the amalgamation of the College with Trent Polytechnic in 1974. The combined educational establishment has now become Nottingham Trent University.

There is no hint in the biographical details which we have just given as to why Mary Cannell might figure in an archive of mathematicians. Indeed it was the work which she undertook after she retired which earns her a place in this archive as a highly respected historian of mathematics.

Her work stemmed from the fact that George Green had worked as a miller near Nottingham. Green was a mathematician who was well known to almost all students of mathematics around the world, yet little was known of his life. Flauvel writes in [1]:-

... widespread knowledge of Green himself dates only from the 1970s when Cannell and other Nottingham colleagues worked to restore his windmill and his memory.

When I [EFR] first visited Green's windmill in Nottingham the booklet which I purchased was George Green Miller and Mathematician written in 1988 by Mary Cannell. She produced a major biography of Green George Green : Mathematician and Physicist 1793-1841 : The Background to His Life and Work in 1993. In addition she wrote research articles on Green's life and work bringing to the world of mathematics an understanding of Green's remarkable life.

Flauvel writes in [1]:-

She charmed audiences on several continents, promoting interest in Green and early 19th-century mathematical physics, in the clear tones and pure vowels of pre-war English, somewhere between Miss Marple and Dame Peggy Ashcroft.
...
Mary Cannell was working on projects of one sort or another - the Green website, the revised edition of the biography, research papers, the catalogue in the university of Nottingham library - right to the end, in days filled with her characteristic energy and enthusiasm.

Article by: J J O'Connor and E F Robertson

September 2000


MacTutor History of Mathematics
[http://www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/Biographies/Cannell.html]