Series: Personal Encounters With Primary Resources for Canadian Sci/Tech History 
Sub-Series 4: The International Canadian Scientific Congresses Project
First Posted on Friday, October 16, 2020 / Yom Shishi, 28 Tishrei, 5780

By: David Orenstein

Concatenation: A Promotional Blog Post

I’ll be debating Michael Barany, from the University of Edinburgh, on Friday, October 23, at 2:00 pm, EDT = 11:00 am, PDT. The topic will be “The International Mathematical Congress Held in Toronto in 1924,  was a Success?”.  It will be part of the Fall On-line Colloquia series of the Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Mathematics (CSHPM). Please click here for the invitation and Zoom link. As a true Canadian patriot, I’ll be speaking in the affirmative, while Michael will be speaking in opposition.

How did I get to be doing such a debate? It’s a tale of several steps of concatenation.

Ever since my undergraduate days in the early 1970s at the University of Toronto, studying Mathematics and Biology, I’ve been interested in the History of Science. Eventually I started researching the field by the methods of a previous era, such as researching in archives in person and unmasked. You could also travel for pleasure and enjoyment on busy buses, trains and planes.

You could also attend academic colloquia, sitting close together in large numbers and then share meals afterwards. It was after one such colloquium at U of T.’s IHPST, given by CSTHA Past-President Randall Brooks, on Historic Canadian Telescopes, that I chatted with him at the crowded dinner table. Noting I was off to Quebec City for an early December holiday, Randall supplied me with contacts so that I might be able to go behind the scenes at their Musée de la civilisation.

Accordingly on the Tuesday morning of my weeklong visit I was seated in the  Reading Room of their Archives where, among other treasures waiting for me, were Jean Talon’s personal copy of  Johannes Kepler’s Rudolphine Tables, Jérome de Lalande’s Traité de l’astronomie, and a hardbound manuscript notebook, M-251, that included a detailed on-site solar eclipse observation from 1780.

I was hooked! After several years of associated research, talks and publications I decided it was time to try to get into the head of a committed, conservative Catholic priest and educator who was also so committed to Natural Science. So I would study the life and works of Georges Lemaitre: President of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, astrophysicist and the conceptualiser of the Big Bang.

A biography of Lemaitre revealed that he was a frequent visitor to Canada and he had even come to my home town, Toronto,  in 1924. Then he was following his University of Cambridge mentor, the great astrophysicist Arthur Eddington. Eddington was presenting papers to both the International Mathematical Congress and the British Association for the Advancement of Science being hosted by the University of Toronto that summer. Wow!

But that’s another story.


1 a) Noël Baillargeon, Le Séminaire de Québec sous l’épiscopat de Mgr de Laval, 1972,  Les Presses de l’Université Laval

b) ibid., Le Séminaire de Québec de 1685 à 1760, 1977,  Quebec City, Les Presses de l’Université Laval

c) ibid., Le Séminaire de Québec de 1760 à 1800, 1981,  Quebec City, Les Presses de l’Université Laval

d) ibid., Le Séminaire de Québec de 1800 à 1850, 1994,  Quebec City, Les Presses de l’Université Laval

2)  Elaine McKinnon Riehm and Frances Hoffman, Turbulent Times in Mathematics: The Life of J.C.Fields and the History of the Fields Medal, 2011, American Mathematical Society and The Fields Institute

3 a) John Charles Fields, editor, Proceedings of the International Mathematical Congress held in Toronto, August 11-16, 2 volumes, 1928, Toronto, University of Toronto Press

Available at the International Mathematics Union website:.

Volume 1: <;

Volume 2: <;

b) British Association for the Advancement of Science, Report of the Ninety-Second Meeting…Toronto, August 6-13, 1925, London, Office of the British Association for the Advancement of Science

Available through the Biodiversity Heritage website:


4) Dominique Lambert, Un atome d’univers: la vie at L’œuvre de Georges Lemaitre, 2000, Bruxelles: Lessius: Racine

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