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Archives Spotlight: The H.S. Vandiver Papers

The H.S. Vandiver Papers

By Kristy Sorensen

The following article, featured as part of the Archives of American Mathematics Spotlight, was published in the May/June 2006 issue of MAA FOCUS. The full issue is available here (pdf).

H.S. Vandiver with son

H.S. Vandiver with his son Frank ca. 1930. (Click to enlarge.)
Source: The H.S. Vandiver Papers at the Archives of American Mathematics.

The H.S. Vandiver Papers at the Archives of American Mathematics (AAM) are open for research after the completion of an extensive preservation and access project.

These papers consist of correspondence, research notes, bibliographies, lecture notes, notebooks, drafts of publications, reprints, and photographs documenting the career of Harry Schultz Vandiver.

Vandiver (1882-1973) was a prolific number theorist best known for his work on Fermat's Last Theorem and Bernoulli numbers, and for his expository writing on mathematics.

Vandiver dropped out of high school and never attended college or obtained a graduate degree, although he attended some graduate lectures at the University of Pennsylvania while working as a customshouse broker for his father's firm. He learned mathematics primarily by solving, and later writing, American Mathematical Monthly problems. He developed an impressive publication record in the Monthly, even collaborating with G.D. Birkhoff.

This publication record earned Vandiver a position as an instructor at Cornell University in 1919, which Birkhoff persuaded him to accept. Vandiver went on to become a professor at the University of Texas at Austin from 1924 to 1966, publish 174 papers, and win the first Cole Prize in Number Theory for his work on Fermat's Last Theorem.

The collection includes Vandiver's writings, notes, and bibliographies on Fermat's Last Theorem, as well as documentation and correspondence relating to the early use of computers in this research. By far the richest section of the H.S. Vandiver Papers is his correspondence, containing more than 2,500 letters written between 1910 and 1965. Correspondents include many notable mathematicians: A.A. Albert, E.T. Bell, R.E. Bellman, G.D. Birkhoff, S.G. Bourne, R.D. Brauer, L. Carlitz, A. Church, H.S.M. Coxeter, L.E. Dickson, H. Hasse, I.N. Herstein, S. Lefschetz, D.N. Lehmer, E.H. Moore, C.A. Nicol, E.L. Post, B.L. van der Waerden, and A.L. Whiteman.

Postcard from Hasse to Vandiver

Postcard from H. Hasse to H.S. Vandiver, with mathematical notes from Vandiver 1928. (Click to enlarge.)
Source: The H.S. Vandiver Papers at the Archives of American Mathematics.

Postcard from Hasse to Vandiver

The AAM's archival assistant Nikki Thomas rehoused the papers and photographs into archival-quality folders and boxes, and removed paper clips and staples to ensure the documents' continued preservation. In addition, Thomas created a more detailed inventory of the papers that will assist our researchers in accessing this extensive collection. The preservation and cataloguing work completed on this collection will ensure that it is available to our researchers for many years to come.

Kristy Sorensen served as the archivist at the Archives of American Mathematics until November 2006.

The Archives of American Mathematics (AAM) is a unit of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin. Individuals interested in conducting research or donating materials or who have general questions about the AAM should contact Carol Mead, Archivist:, (512) 495-4539.

Revised on July 12, 2010.