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Quaternions at Twilight: Mary Somerville's studies of mathematics in old age by Dr Brigitte Stenhouse


All alumni and friends are warmly invited to the 2023 Girton College Annual Library event at 11am in the Stanley Library on Saturday September 23rd. Our speaker for this occasion will be Dr Brigitte Stenhouse, Lecturer in History of Mathematics at The Open University.

Quaternions at Twilight: Mary Somerville's studies of mathematics in old age

In 1873, Girton College was presented with the scientific library of the widely celebrated mathematician and scientist Mary Somerville (1780-1872). Within this collection is a copy of Peter Guthrie Tait's Elementary Treatise of Quaternions, which on its publication in 1867 provided an introduction to a groundbreaking area of mathematics that opened profound questions in algebra. Already ninety years old, when Somerville received this book from the then-president of the London Mathematical Society she studied it in great detail, taking extensive notes and attempting the examples at the end of each chapter. Using the Somerville collections at Girton and Somerville College (Girton's sister college in Oxford) this talk will explore both the mathematical work Mary Somerville produced in her twilight years, and how she cultivated a mathematical community for herself when living a somewhat isolated life in Naples, Italy. 

To reserve a place at this talk please email or call 01223 764935.

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