Alfreds Arnolds Adolfs Meders

Born: 1 October 1873 in Riga, Latvia
Died: 1944 in Poznan, Poland

Alfreds Meders' father was a school teacher who taught mathematics at a high school. Alfreds' family were of German origin and he was brought up with German as his first language. He graduated from high school in 1890 and went to Dorpat to study mathematics at the university there.

Dorpat university had been founded in 1632 by Gustavus II Adolphus of Sweden, but had been closed for nearly 100 years before being reopened in 1802. This was during the period when Estonia was controlled by Russia. The accession of Alexander III saw Russia make a much greater effort to increase Russian influence on Estonia. In 1887 Russian was made the language of instruction, instead of German and Estonian, and in 1893 while Meders studied at the University of Dorpat, the Russians made an effort to convert the establishment to a Russian one. The name of Dorpat (and of the university) was changed to Tartu.

Adolf Kneser, who had been taught by Kronecker and written a thesis on algebraic functions and equations, was the professor at Dorpat. He greatly influenced Meders who graduated from Tartu University's Faculty of Physics and Mathematics in 1895 (notice that Dorpat had changed its name to Tartu by this time). In the same year of 1895, Peirs Bohl became Head of the Departmant of Mathematics at Riga Polytechnic Institute, founded in1862, the only higher education institution in Latvia at the time. Two years later Meders was appointed to Riga Polytechnic Institute where at first he was an assistant of K Kupfer, but later became a dozent. We mentioned above how Dorpat became a Russian university in 1893, and this happened three years later to Riga Polytechnic Institute. By the time Meders was appointed, therefore, all teaching at the Institute was in Russian. Leimanis, who was a student of Meders, writes in [2] that he taught:-

... as a beloved and outstanding teacher.
In 1906 Meders was awarded his masters degree from the University of St Petersburg.

Meders worked on differential geometry and mathematical analysis. He often published papers written in German, in German journals. For example he published the following three papers in Crelle's Journal: Über einige Arten Singularer Punkte von Raumkurven (1896); Zur Theorie der singularen Punkte einer Raumkurve (1899); and Analytische Untersuchung singularer Punkte von Raumkurven (1910). In Monatshefte für Mathematik he published: Über die Determinante von Wronski (1906); and Zur Differentiation bestimmter Integrale nach einem Parameter (1911).

During World War I, Riga Polytechnic Institute was evacuated to Moscow. During 1917 the Russian domination of Latvia ended and, after a brief period of German invasion, the country became independent in a proclamation made on 18 November 1918. Within this new independent country there was a wish to quickly found a national university and the University of Latvia was founded in September 1919. Meders was appointed as a professor at the University of Latvia from the time of its founding.

Meders was also interested in the history of mathematics and he wrote an important paper Direkte und indirekte Beziehungen zwischen Gauss und der Dorpater Universität in 1928. His interests went outside mathematics and he sometimes lectured on astronomy, meteorology and biology where he had a special interest in birds.

The German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact was signed in August 1939 and Latvia's fate was out of its own hands. Meders began teaching at the start of the academic year 1939-40, but being of German origin he found himself on a list of people who were required to be repatriated to Germany. It was with great sadness that he left Latvia and Riga which had been his home.

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

March 2004
MacTutor History of Mathematics