Pitzer Professor Judith V. Grabiner Wins American Mathematical Society’s Whiteman Prize

Judith V. Grabiner, Flora Sanborn Pitzer Professor Emerita of Mathematics

Claremont, Calif. (March 5, 2021)—The American Mathematical Society (AMS) added another chapter to the storied career of Pitzer Professor Judith V. Grabiner when it named her the winner of its 2021 Albert Leon Whiteman Memorial Prize. The Whiteman Prize, awarded every three years, recognizes “notable exposition and exceptional scholarship in the history of mathematics.”

Grabiner, who is the Flora Sanborn Pitzer Professor Emerita of Mathematics at Pitzer College, received the prize to honor her “outstanding contributions to the history of mathematics.” In the AMS announcement, the society cited her works on French mathematicians Augustin-Louis Cauchy (1789-1857) and Joseph-Louis Lagrange (1736-1813), and Scottish mathematician Colin Maclaurin (1698-1746). The AMS also highlighted her distinguished teaching career, her numerous publications, and her gift for writing clear expository pieces about complex ideas.

When Grabiner accepted the prize, she took the opportunity to thank those who helped her accomplish so much in her career, including Barbara Beechler, the founder of Pitzer College’s mathematics program, and her students, who gave her “insights from their differing backgrounds, both into history and into the variety of ways people think about mathematics.”

The Whiteman Prize is the latest accolade of many for Grabiner, who has been described by her Claremont Colleges colleagues as a towering figure in her field. In 2012, she was selected as an inaugural member of the Fellows of the AMS. In 2014, her book A Historian Looks Back: The Calculus as Algebra and Selected Writings won the Mathematical Association of America’s (MAA) Beckenbach Book Prize. Grabiner also won the MAA’s Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics in 2003.

Grabiner has published numerous articles on the history of mathematics, ranging from “Who Gave You the Epsilon? Cauchy and the Origins of Rigorous Calculus,” in the American Mathematical Monthly (1983) to “The Role of Mathematics in Liberal Arts Education” in the International Handbook of Research in History, Philosophy and Science Teaching (2014), and most recently, “It’s All for the Best: Optimization in the History of Science” in the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics (2021). She also created a popular digital class for The Teaching Company’s Great Courses series called “Mathematics, Philosophy, and the ‘Real World,” which she based on the Math One class she taught every fall at Pitzer.  

Judith V. Grabiner earned her BS from the University of Chicago and completed her graduate work at Harvard University. She began teaching at Pitzer in 1985. During her job interview for the position, she said, “I want to help people understand how mathematics is related to everything else.” Reflecting on her career when she retired 31 years later, she said, “I’d like to think I had something to do with making that happen at Pitzer.” The 2021 Whiteman Prize is another testament to the impact Grabiner’s scholarship and teaching has had on students in Claremont as well as in the field of mathematics around the world. Watch this 2016 video profile of Grabiner to learn more about her time at Pitzer and her theory of everything.

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