Triple M and the MacTutor Project:

Joint CSHPM/BSHM/HOMSIGMAA Conference, July 12-15, 2021

First Posted on Friday, July 2, 2021 / Yom Shishi, 22 Tammuz, 5781

By: David Orenstein

Back on October 23, 2020, I debated Michael Barany,, from the British Society for the History of Mathematics (BSHM) as part of the ongoing On-line Colloquia series of the Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Mathematics (CSHPM). See: Every few years BSHM and CSHPM meet with each other somewhere in Canada or in the British Isles. And in recent years the History of Mathematics Special Interest Group of the Mathematics Association of America (HOMSIGMAA) has joined this friendly and productive partnership.

These conferences provide a rich fare of formal and informal scholarship. For example, at the Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland conference, the highlight was a field trip to the Dublin brewery of Guinness. That’s where William Gossett (“Student”),, worked as the Director of Quality Control. He is famous to beginning Statistics students for developing the Student t Test.

This year we’ll all be meeting (virtually) at the University of St. Andrews,, in Scotland, from Monday, July 12 to Thursday, July 15. Registration is free and can be found at the BSHM website: or or

There’s a precedent for the three anglophone North Atlantic fraternal scholarly societies to convene together regularly. For many years the Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science (CSHPS), the British Society for the History of Science (BSHS), and the History of Science Society (HSS), have been meeting very three years in rotation. Affectionately called: Triple S.

The last one in Canada took place at the University of Alberta in 2016, where CSHPS had its virtual conference this year under the auspices of the CFHSS Congress. I wrote about this one in the CSHPM Bulletin,, p. 19-20.

On Thursday, July 15, 2021 at 2:00pm BST, 9:00am EDT, and at 6:00am PDT, Plenary 7 will be “A history of the development of MacTutor”, presented by the website’s co-founders Edmund Robertson and John O’Connor.

MacTutor is an online History of Mathematics resource concentrating on, but not exclusive to, the biographies of Mathematicians and their connections.

Let’s look at it, especially how to use it as a resource for Canadian HPSTM scholars, particularly Canadianists.

According to Roberson and O’Connor, MacTutor is an outreach effort from the HPM community, so the only people it is not aimed at are historians of mathematics, except as possible contributors. Originally it was aimed at undergraduates, but the current aspiration is to appeal to anyone from 11 year old school children to professors of mathematics.

In 1988 the University of St Andrews set up a microlab of Macintosh computers. So, it’s only indirectly a Scottish name. At least it’s named after my favourite variety of apple.

MacTutor was originally designed to help with teaching mathematics, using historical biographies and other topics as a supplement. At Heidelberg in 1994, MacTutor was the winning entry in the “Mathematics” category of the European Academic Software Award.

In July 2019, mean daily requests were 261,706, with hits for the month  from 210 countries, including Myanmar, Cook Islands, Palau, Marshall Islands, and Aruba.

There are around 3,000 biographies on MacTutor, but of course there is a special focus on Mathematics and mathematicians in Scotland, There are also ways to explore its Canadian aspects.

MacTutor lists 25 mathematicians born in Canada: Other Canadian mathematicians can be found by searching MacTutor for “Canada”. There are also entries for the Canadian Mathematical Society, the Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Statistical Society:,

In MacTutor Maps,, there are 15 places in Canada, four of them in Nova Scotia alone.

To see what MacTutor can do, we could look at two topics that I’m relatively expert on: University of Toronto Mathematician John Charles Fields,, and also the 1924 Toronto International Mathematical Congress, , whose existence and success Fields ensured.

But that’s another story.