You are here

A Station Favorable to the Pursuits of Science: Primary Materials in the History of Mathematics at the United States Military Academy

Joe Albree, David C. Arney and V. Frederick Rickey
American Mathematical Society/London Mathematical Society
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
History of Mathematics 18
[Reviewed by
Fernando Q. Gouvêa
, on

 In the early 1800s, the United States Military Academy at West Point was one of the only (perhaps it was the only) American colleges to pay serious attention to mathematics as an academic discipline and to make an effort to be up to date with what was then going on in Europe, particularly in France. Part of this effort was dedicated to building up a good mathematical library, which included a selection of the best books then current in Europe. Over the years, the library was augmented with many books, including many books written by West Point professors, who were encouraged to produce textbooks for their students (some of these were translations or adaptations of French books, but many were original works). As a result, the library at the Military Academy today contains an impressive collection of valuable sources for historians of mathematics. This book is a lovingly-prepared catalog of the materials at the USMA library that would be of interest to historians. A long introduction tells the story of the teaching of mathematics at USMA and of the building and preservation of its library. The catalog itself follows, and several valuable appendices round out the book. The first reproduces a catalog of the USMA library dating back to 1803. The second, which perhaps will be the most popular feature of the whole book, contains 30 photographs of title pages, frontspieces, and pages which contains annotations or other items of interest. Appendix 3 lists all the portraits of mathematicians to be found in books in the collection, and appendix 4 lists frontspieces found in many of the books. I suspect that few readers will want their own copy of this one, but this useful resource for historians would make a great addition to any mathematics library.

Fernando Gouvêa ( is Associate Professor of Mathematics at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. His special interests include number theory, history of mathematics, science fiction, and Christian theology.

  • Introduction
  • Catalog of the West Point collection
  • Catalog of 1803 Inventory of books, maps and charts, belonging to the Military Academy at West Point
  • Photographs
  • Portraits in the collection
  • Frontispieces in the collection