The Union of Czech Mathematicians and Physicists

Founded in 1862

The Union of Czech Mathematicians and Physicists began its existence on 28 May 1862 when the Society for Open Lectures in Mathematics and Physics in Prague was founded. Initially it was a student Society for students at the Charles University of Prague, but university teachers quickly supported the Society. In particular Professor Filip J Kulik gave strong support and in the year after the Society was founded he donated a large part of his extensive library of mathematics books to the Society. When Kulik died later that year (1863) the rest of his library was left to the Society.

Professor Ernst Mach was also very supportive and, in 1868, he suggested that the Society might wish to meet in one of his lecture theatres and have the use of one of his physics laboratories in which Society members could carry out any experimental work. In 1869 the Society was officially registered but now it was under the name Union of Czech Mathematicians. At this stage there were 69 members and one can see by the change of name that the Society had moved from a local Prague Society to a national Czech Society during these early years.

One of the important tasks undertaken by the Union soon after it was registered was to work on the problem of mathematical and physical terminology in the Czech language. Another task they undertook was to organise the First Congress of Czech Mathematicians and Physicists on 5-6 August 1870. Publishing a journal was also high on the agenda and by the time the 10th anniversary of the Union came round in 1872 they could celebrate with launching the publication The Journal for the Cultivation of Mathematics and Physics. In the following year they began publishing a series of mathematics and physics textbooks.

The Union continued to expand its operations outside Prague and it opened a number of branches, in particular one in Brno in 1911 and one in Bratislava in 1929. In 1919 it went into the business of publishing in a big way obtaining a licence to print, publish, and sell books. It purchased a printing firm and set up its own Publishing House and bookshop. Political events which led to the creation of Czechoslovakia in no way hindered the progress of the Union.

A declaration supporting political union between the Czechs and Slovaks had been made in Pittsburgh on 31 May 1918. A National Assembly was formed and a new democratic constitution was adopted in 1920. There was a reorganisation of the university system in which mathematics and physics flourished. In 1921 the Union of Czech Mathematicians changed its name to reflect its involvement in both mathematics and physics and renamed itself the Union of Czech Mathematicians and Physicists. Its membership continued to increase rapidly and it was involved in a large number of activities supporting mathematics and physics. The Union purchased a house in 1930 and erected a new building to the rear of the house which was their bookshop and later the library. The Union moved into its new headquarters in 1938.

Germany annexed Austria in March 1938. At Munich at the end of September the Prague government was asked to give Germany all districts of Bohemia and Moravia with populations that were 50 percent or more German. The leaders of Czechoslovakia resigned rather than agree, but those who took over gave the regions to Germany. Hitler's armies invaded on 14 March 1939 and Hitler installed his representative in Prague to run the country. Czech universities were closed but during these extremely difficult war years the Union did exceptionally well to keep the mathematical life of the country going and provide mathematical support for young mathematicians.

After the war the country initially moved towards a liberal democracy, but in May 1946 the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia won nearly 40% of the votes and after this controlled many key ministries. In February 1948 the Communists took over more of the government and many non-communist leaders and intellectuals fled the country. By May a Soviet style constitution had been brought in, private property was confiscated, and in particular the Union of Czech Mathematicians and Physicists had their Publishing House, bookshop, and library confiscated.

In 1952 the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences was founded in Prague and a number of specialised institutions were attached to it including the Union of Czechoslovak Mathematicians and Physicists as the Union was now called. The property which the Union had owned but had been confiscated by the State was now given to the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. The Union's mathematical library then became the library of the Mathematical Institute of the Academy.

Reforms in Czechoslovakia in the 1960s came to an end in the spring of 1968 when Soviet troops entered the country. Czechoslovakia became a federal republic, the Czech part and the Slovakia part becoming the Czech Socialist Republic and the Slovak Socialist Republic, respectively. Each had their national parliaments and governments and this federal process led to the Union of Mathematicians and Physicists splitting into a Czech part and a Slovak part. The Union of Slovak Mathematicians and Physicists split off from the old Union in 1969.

The modern Czech Republic came into being on 1 January 1993, when the union with Slovakia was ended. After this event the Union made an attempt to recover their property confiscated by the communist regime, but they failed in their bid. The present Union is divided into four sections, the Mathematics Research Section, the Physics Research Section, the Mathematics Pedagogical Section, and the Physics Pedagogical Section. It has 15 branches throughout the Czech republic and over 2500 members.

Visit the society website.

References (show)

  1. L Paty and J Vesely (eds.), Union of Czechoslovak Mathematicians and Physicists (Prague, 1984).
  2. L Pick, The Union of Czech Mathematicians and Physicists, European Mathematical Society Newsletter 43 (March, 2002), 20-21.

Last Updated August 2004