Pitzer College Mathematics Professor Judith V. Grabiner Wins Distinguished MAA Book Award

Claremont, Calif. (January 7, 2014) — Pitzer College Professor of Mathematics Judith V. Grabiner’s most recent book, A Historian Looks Back: The Calculus as Algebra and Selected Writings, won the prestigious Mathematical Association of America’s Beckenbach Book Prize. The Mathematical Association of America (MAA) described A Historian Looks Back as “an inspiring resource for courses on the history of mathematics.”

A Historian Looks Back by Judith V. Grabiner
A Historian Looks Back by Judith V. Grabiner

The prize is awarded to authors of innovative books published by the MAA in the past five years. It is not given annually; it is only awarded when a committee deems a book truly exceptional. The MAA will honor Grabiner at the 2014 Joint Mathematics Meetings in Baltimore, MD on January 15-18.

Grabiner’s book highlights the benefits of studying the evolution of mathematical ideas and the relationship between culture and mathematics. The book includes 10 articles—six of which won MAA awards for expository excellence—that span a range topics, including widely held myths about the history of mathematics and the work of mathematicians such as René Descartes and Sir Isaac Newton.

In the introduction of A Historian Looks Back, Grabiner describes the importance of the history of mathematics. “Mathematicians’ creative ideas can come from within mathematics or from the wider society,” she writes. “Mathematics progresses, not only by using and extending the prevailing ideas and techniques, but also by transforming and transcending them. Progress depends on people being willing to use, discover, explore, and develop concepts and techniques— to risk being incomplete or even wrong.”

In response to the Beckenbach Book Prize, Grabiner thanked those involved her intellectual development and academic work, including her teachers; her alma maters; her husband, Pomona College Professor of Mathematics Sandy Grabiner; the Pitzer family for the Flora Sanborn Pitzer Professorship, an endowed position Grabiner has held since 1994; and the MAA for its support of mathematics.

“Above all, I thank my students,” Grabiner said. “They’ve taught me most of what I know about being clear and presenting material in ways that interest others, and their questions and insights bode well for the intellectual future of our profession and of the wider society.”

Grabiner has authored three books and written numerous articles on the history of mathematics. In 2012, she was selected as an inaugural member of the Fellows of the American Mathematical Society (AMS), which recognizes AMS members who have made outstanding contributions to the field of mathematics. Grabiner won the MAA’s Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics in 2003.

Grabiner earned her BS from the University of Chicago and completed her graduate work at Harvard University

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