Wed, February 7, 2018
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4:00pm [4:15pm] Mathematics Colloquium
Mathematics Colloquium Speaker: Prof. Michael J. Barany from Dartmouth College Date & Time: 7th February, 4-5pm Venue: Ramanujan Hall Title: A Synthesis and a Simplification: Difficulty and differentiation in the intercontinental history of the theory of distributions. Abstract: Between 1945 and 1960, French mathematician Laurent Schwartz’s theory of distributions became one of the first of a new kind of mathematical theory: one shared and studied almost from the start across multiple continents. Today, distributions have mostly settled into a comfortable niche in the basic graduate (or in some cases advanced undergraduate) mathematics curriculum, as a theory many researchers use routinely as a basic tool while many others safely ignore it. But in those early years the theory’s leading expositors came to many different answers about how difficult the theory was, who should study it, and what that meant for the theory’s place in modern mathematics. My talk will explain the early history of Schwartz’s theory with special attention to the question of how difficult the theory was understood to be in different contexts across five continents. The fact that there were so many different answers to the question of distributions’ difficulty, I argue, can explain how the theory was able to spread so far and so quickly. This, in turn, calls attention to the changing nature of mathematical theories themselves in the mid-twentieth century.