This page includes, in addition to news about historians, news about political scientists, economists, law professors, and others who write about history. For a comprehensive list of historians' obituaries, go here.
Steve Russ, Eleanor Robson, Rona Epstein, and David Epstein in the London Independent (May 24, 2004):
AS THE first Manager of the Mathematics Research Centre at Warwick University, from 1967, David Fowler played an important part in establishing, through the research symposia organised at the centre, the outstanding international reputation that Warwick now enjoys in many branches of mathematics. As a distinguished scholar of the history of mathematics he has left a wonderful legacy in the form of a series of papers and books presenting, in rich detail, a far-reaching, original and inventive re-interpretation of early Greek mathematics....
Not so long ago, a mathematician was sent a book to review. It was a dense and learned tome on ancient Greek mathematics that he was about to return when he noticed the price. Intrigued that a book could be both so incomprehensible and so expensive, he took it home out of sheer curiosity and ended up becoming a historian of Greek mathematics himself. The year was 1975, the book Wilbur Knorr's The Evolution of the Euclidean Elements, and the mathematician David Fowler. This was the story he liked to tell of his origins as a historian, although ironically the whole of his subsequent career was spent in refuting the accepted story of the origins of Greek mathematics and arguing, very engagingly and persuasively, for another one.
Here, first, is the standard account. In fifth-century Athens, Greek mathematics was all about numbers, just like mathematics in other ancient cultures. Then the Greeks discovered incommensurability: that some ratios of lengths or areas could not be expressed in terms of whole numbers. An example, discovered by the Greeks, is the square root of 2, equal to 1.414213562373095... . This caused such a shock to the Greek mathematicians that they abandoned numbers altogether and instead invented the Euclidean geometrical tradition that describes and explores only the properties and relationships of mathematical objects, not their numerical values. The most famous of these de-arithmetised formulations is Euclid's Elements book II, proposition 12: The square on the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares on its two shorter sides.
But, asked Fowler, where is the evidence for this story? Early, pre-Euclidean
mathematics suggests nothing of the sort. It is all in the works of later Greek
commentators on mathematics and its history, who had no better access to the
very ancient sources than we do. In fact, there is no direct evidence at all
for the mathematics of the fifth century BC; the earliest extant source is Plato's
dialogue Meno from 385 BC.
Ernie Suggs, in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (May 23, 2004):
Few people alive know the intricacies surrounding the work and process that led to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision as well as John Hope Franklin.
And it is not because he is one of America's foremost historians, who penned the classic reader "From Slavery to Freedom."
It was because he was there.
"I assisted Thurgood [Marshall] and his staff in trying to bring to life the history of Reconstruction and to understand what those who voted for the 14th Amendment [which guaranteed equal rights to all citizens] had in mind," Franklin said. "Thurgood didn't know from Adam about that."
It was research conducted by Franklin and a team of social scientists and historians that helped Marshall's case and eventually led to the 1954 decision that reversed the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case that upheld segregation as "separate but equal."
"We knew it was important and we knew that it would be bitterly challenged," said Franklin, adding that they had watched cautiously as higher education institutions across the country slowly became integrated. "But getting somebody into graduate school was different than getting them into elementary schools."...
But 50 years later Franklin told a group of more than 200 at the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African-American Culture and History that he is seeing regression that is deeper than education and spreads into where people live and work.
"There are people who haven't given up the battle from that day to this, so we are seeing this process of resegregation," he said.
"As long as we have segregation in housing and in the workplace it will be difficult to desegregate the schools," Franklin said. "We are not going to have another Brown; the courts have spoken. What we have to do is fight on the other fronts."
Franklin's personal odyssey through black history is long and storied. Born in Rentiesville, Okla., in 1915, he graduated from Fisk in 1935, before getting his master's and Ph.D. from Harvard.....
"He is an American treasure," said Herman "Skip" Mason,
a local historian and archivist at Morehouse College. "And he should not
be looked at as an African-American historian. His work helped non-African-Americans
understand our experience."