Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Bourbaki Lecture

Bourbaki Letter

Hanging in the Indiana University Mathematics Lounge is a letter dated November 16, 1948 written to Max Zorn from Nicolas Bourbaki and cc'd to André Weil.

I am glad to be able to inform you that the American Consulate in Paris has now granted me a visa, and that I have booked passages, for my wife and myself, which should just enable us to reach Columbus, Ohio, in time for my scheduled talk to the Association for Symbolic Logic.

At the same time, I must say that I have learnt with no little surprise the rejection, on technical grounds which I do not understand, of my application for membership in the American Mathematical Society. Under such circumstances, it will be clear to you that I cannot but decline your kind invitation to attend a dinner which, I believe, is chiefly sponsored by that Society.

Perhaps the AMS rejected his application on the technicality that Bourbaki did not actually exist as a person, he was just a pseudonym for a collection of French mathematicians writing a series of books on modern mathematics.

Bourbaki did have an invited paper presented at the ASL Meeting in Columbus on December 31. Weil, one of the founders of the Bourbaki group, presented the paper at the conference.

If the same kind of story happened today would we hang a framed email on the wall?


  1. If the same kind of story happened today would we hang a framed email on the wall?

    There would be a blog entry quoting the email.

  2. There's a more recent "bourbaki" as well: G. W. Peck has authored or co-authored several papers in combinatorics. The "G" is Ron Graham, the "W" is Doug West the "E" is Erdos, the "C" is Fan Chung and the "K" is Dan Kleitman. Anyone know who the "P" is??

  3. there is also boyarsky

  4. P was G. Purdy, see Fan Chung's list of papers, .

  5. I am a grad student and Indiana. I went to Lance's page this morning, saw the picture of the framed Bourbaki letter, and said, "hey there's a framed letter from Bourbaki, I think I've seen something like that before."

    Then, without scrolling down to see any of the text of the post, I remembered that Lance was visiting here in Bloomington, and that it was in fact the letter hanging in the math department lounge that I had looked at on many occasions.

    Just a strange "small world" revelation to start the day.