Fields Medal Letter
Fields' Letter setting out his proposals
It is proposed to found two gold medals to be awarded at successive International Mathematical Congress for outstanding achievements in mathematics. Because of the multiplicity of the branches of mathematics and taking into account the fact that the interval between such congresses is four years it is felt that at least two medals should be available. The awards would be open to the whole world and would be made by an International Committee.
The fund for the founding of the medals is constituted by balance left over after financing the Toronto congress held in 1924. This must be held in trust by the Government or by some body authorized by government to hold and invest such funds. It would seem that a dignified method for handling the matter and one which in this changing world should most nearly secure permanency would be for the Canadian Government to take over the fund and appoint as his custodian say the Prime Minister of the Dominion or the Prime Minister in association with the Minister of Finance. The medals would be struck at the Mint in Ottawa and the duty of the custodian would be simply to hand over the medals at the proper time to the accredited International Committee.
As things are at present a practical course of procedure would seem to be for the Executive Committee of a Congress to appoint a small international committee authorized to add to its number and call into consultation other mathematicians as it might deem expedient. The Committee would be expected to decide on the ones to whom the awards should be made thirty months in advance of the following Congress. Its decisions would be communicated to the President and Secretary of the Organizing Committee of the Congress, this Committee having the duty of communicating to the Prime Minister of Canada the names of the recipients in order that the medal might be prepared in time and forwarded to the president of the Organizing Committee. Immediately on the appointment of the Executive Committee of the Congress the medals would be handed over to its President. The presentation of the medals would constitute a special feature at some general meeting of the Congress.
In the above arrangements the role of the Organizing Committee might be taken over by the Executive of the International Mathematical Union at some time in the future when that organization has been generally accepted.
In coming to its decision the hands of the IC should be left as free as possible. It would be understood, however, that in making the awards while it was in recognition of work already done it was at the same time intended to be an encouragement for further achievement on the part of the recipients and a stimulus to renewed effort on the part of others.
In commenting on the work of the medalists it might be well to be conservative in one's statements to avoid invidious comparisons explicit or implied. The Committee might ease matters by saying they have decided to make the awards along certain lines not alone because of the outstanding character of the achievement but also with a view to encouraging further development along these lines. In this connection the Committee might say that they had elected to select subjects in Analysis, in Geometry, in the Theory of Groups, in the Theory of Numbers etc. as the case might be. When the Committee had come to an agreement in this sense the claims for recognition of work done along the special lines in question could be considered in detail by two smaller groups or subcommittees with specialized qualifications who would have authority to take into consultation or add to the subcommittees other mathematicians of specialized knowledge.
With regard to the medals themselves, I might say that they should each contain at least 200 dollars worth of gold and be of a fair size, probably 7.5 centimetres in diameter. Because of the international character the language to be employed it would seem should be Latin or Greek? The design has still to be definitely determined. It will have to be decided on by artists in consultation with mathematicians. The suggestions made in the preceding are tentative and open to consideration on the part of mathematicians.
It is not contemplated to make an award until 1936 at the Congress following that at Zurich during which an international Medal Committee should be named.
The above programme means a new departure in the matter of international scientific cooperation and is likely to be the precursor of moves along like lines in other sciences than mathematics.
One would hear again emphasized the fact that the medals should be of a character as purely international and impersonal as possible. There should not be attached to them in any way the name of any country, institution or person.
Perhaps provision could be made as soon as possible after the appointment of the Executive of the Zurich Congress for the consideration by it of the subject of the medals, and the appointment without undue delay of a Committee and the awards of the medals to be made in connection with the Congress of 1936.
Suggestions with regard to the design of the medals will be welcome.
(signed) J C Fields
Research Professor of Mathematics University of Toronto.
Last Updated October 2003