Petrograd Physico-Mathematical Society

The Petrograd Physico-Mathematical Society

The St Petersburg Mathematical Society was founded in 1890 on the initiative of V G Imshenetskii. The history of that Society from the time of its founding until 1921 when the Society began to function again under the name Petrograd Physico-Mathematical Society is described in the article:

The St Petersburg Mathematical Society.

Note that St Petersburg had been renamed Petrograd by 1921 which partly explains the different names.

Vassiliev was President of the Petrograd Physico-Mathematical Society from the time of its founding in 1921 until 1923 when N M Gyunter was elected to this role. This phase of the Society's existence lasted from 1921 until 1930. It was a period when many outstanding mathematicians took part in running the Society such as Ya V Uspenskii, V I Smirnov, B N Delone, V A Steklov, A A Friedmann, V A Fok, A S Besicovitch, Sergei Bernstein, Ya D Tamarkin, R O Kuzmin and B G Galerkin. From the time that he was elected to to Academy in 1910, Steklov had pressed for the publication of a mathematical journal. At last, with the Society flourishing, he achieved in aims in 1926 when the Journal of the Leningrad Physical and Mathematical Society was founded (by this time St Petersburg or Petrograd had been renamed Leningrad). Sadly, however, Steklov died before the first issue appeared and indeed this first issue contained Steklov's obituary, as well as that of Friedmann. One part of the journal appeared in each of the four years from 1926 to 1929, these four parts making up two volumes of two parts each.

In the late 1920s Russian intellectuals were finding it increasingly difficult, although for a while the Society continued to flourish with 102 members in 1927. Government policies, however, meant that anyone teaching in a university had to teach people without any educational background. Independent thinkers were in trouble from a government that insisted on conformity. The president of the Society was N M Gyunter [2]:-

... whose independent character and courage had for a long time irritated those who "kept an eye" on the state of affairs in the sciences.

In 1930 Smirnov, who was vice-president, proposed that the Society be closed down. This was almost certainly done to save Gyunter from the fate which befell others, and in this it was successful since Gyunter was able to continue his mathematical work in Leningrad until his death in 1941.

Despite the problems that the mathematicians encountered, Smirnov continued to look for an opportunity to restart the Society. In 1953 he organised the Leningrad Mathematical Seminar which, until 1959, operated as the unofficial Leningrad Mathematical Society. It met fortnightly, with Smirnov as president, and particularly Smirnov and Aleksandr Aleksandrov (the Rector of the University of Leningrad) continued to work towards official recognition. In 1959 it became possible to formally reconstitute the Leningrad Mathematical Society and, on 13 April 1959, the Ministry of Higher Education accepted the constitution of the Society. Linnik was elected president, and Smirnov was given the role of honorary president.

The Society had 49 members when it was officially reconstituted in 1959 and by 1962 this number had risen to 92. Numbers continued to rise with 123 members by 1973, 150 by 1978, 209 by 1984 and 224 by 1985. In 1990 the name of the Society was changed from the Leningrad Mathematical Society back to the St Petersburg Mathematical Society.


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JOC/EFR August 2004 School of Mathematics and Statistics
University of St Andrews, Scotland
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http://www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/Societies/Petrograd.html