The Finnish Mathematical Society

Founded in 1868

The Finnish Mathematical Society was named Suomen Matemaattinen Yhdistys. It is a Society:-
... for professionals, appliers and students of mathematics. Its purpose is to advance mathematical thinking and research and overall interest in mathematics in Finland.
At the time that the Society was founded in 1868, Finland had only one university city. The University of Helsinki was founded at Turku in 1640 and transferred to Helsinki in 1828 (it was only sixteen years before this in 1812 that Helsinki became the capital). The Helsinki University of Technology, founded in 1849, was also in Helsinki. Ernst Lindelöf's father, Lorenz Lindelöf, was professor of mathematics in Helsingfors (the old name for Helsinki) at the time when the Society was founded and he became its first chairman appointed at the founding meeting on 20 November 1868.

The time that the Society was founded was a crucial one in the history of Finland. The country had been under Swedish rule for many centuries that rule had seen Finland have practically no institutions of their own. In 1809 Finland became a nation under Russian protection and was ruled from 1809 to 1863 by a bureaucracy chosen by the Russian emperor. In fact student organisations had been banned in in 1852 by a government who saw them as a source of anarchist ideas. After 1863 the country became more independent, setting up its own monetary system, army, and institutions. In 1868 student organisations were again allowed and the Finnish Mathematical Society partly filled this role.

With all the mathematical activity in Finland being in Helsinki when the Society was founded, its initial purpose was largely to raise interest in mathematics among students. One of the original statutes of the Society gave students the right to seek guidance from the Society about any difficulties they encountered in mathematics lectures.

Lehto writes in [3]:-
A marked change took place in 1892, with new statutes and a new Chairman, Professor E R Neovius, a cousin of Ernst Lindelöf and uncle of Rolf Nevanlinna. The Society became more scientific in the modern sense of the word. The number of people doing serious mathematical research was growing ...
In the 20th century new universities were founded in Finland, located at Jyväskylä, Oulu, Joensuu, Kuopio, Tampere and two universities located at Turku. The Finnish Mathematical Society became more active in encouraging young people to study mathematics at university.

Lindelöf was appointed secretary of the Society in 1892 and then became its chairman in 1903. He held these posts for over 40 years. Under his leadership the Society became still more active in encouraging mathematical research, in particular by inviting foreign mathematicians to address its meetings. It was nearly 60 years after the Society was founded that the first foreign speaker addressed the Society. That happened in 1926 when Marcel Riesz addressed the Society, having just accepted the chair of mathematics at the University of Lund in Sweden.

In 1926 Ernst Lindelöf was the professor of mathematics at the University of Helsinki and Rolf Nevanlinna was also teaching there. From this time the Society worked to bring more foreign mathematicians to lecture in Finland, although prior to the outbreak of World War II only nine foreign mathematicians had addressed the Society. The war, however, caused a marked downturn in activity [3]:-
The war and its aftermath were a heavy blow to the Society. Lindelöf retired, Ahlfors and Nevanlinna left the country, and conditions generally were not favourable for scholarly research. I was not until the early 1950s that the worst effects of the war were overcome. War reparations were paid, the residents of the ceded Karelia were resettled, and the economy of the country finally began to improve visibly.
Slowly over the years international connections were built up. In 1957 the Society organised an international conference on analytic function theory in Helsinki, the first international mathematics conference to be held in Finland. The Society undertook the task of organising the International Congress of Mathematicians in Helsinki in 1978, Nevanlinna being one of the main organisers.

The Finnish Mathematical Society is involved in the publication of a number of journals. Together with the Finnish Physical Society it publishes the journal Arkhimedes which began publication in 1948. The Society collaborates with other Scandinavian mathematical societies in publishing Mathematica Scandinavica and Nordisk Matematisk Tidskrift. The President of the Finnish Mathematical Society in 1951 was Pekka Juhana Myrberg and in July of that year he received a letter explaining that plans for a Scandinavian mathematics journal had been under discussion between the Danish, Norwegian and Swedish mathematical societies. An official letter inviting the Finnish Mathematical Society to join in the venture was later sent by Beurling. Myrberg responded in August on behalf of the Society agreeing to enter the discussions. The title of Mathematica Scandinavica was chosen by votes taken in the participating mathematical societies in January 1952. The first meeting of the editorial board was in May and the journal was first published in 1953. Although negotiations for the joint publication of Nordisk Matematisk Tidskrift took a little longer to finalise, it first appeared in 1953. Inkeri Simola, the first woman to obtain a doctorate in mathematics in Finland, was appointed as an editor by the Finnish Mathematical Society.

A list of presidents and secretaries of the Finnish Mathematical Society is given in [4].

Visit the society website.

References (show)

  1. B Branner On the foundation of Mathematica Scandinavica, Math. Scand. 93 (2003), 5-18.
  2. A Lahtinen, Finnish Mathematical Society, European Mathematical Society Newsletter 32 (June, 1999), 16.
  3. O Lehto, The 125th anniversary of the Finnish Mathematical Society, European Mathematical Society Newsletter 9 (September, 1993), 9-10.
  4. M Seppälä, Fragments of the history of the Finnish Mathematical Society (Finnish. English summary), Arkhimedes 37 (4) (1985), 231-236.

Last Updated August 2004