The Portuguese Mathematical Society

Founded in 1940

The Portuguese Mathematical Society (Sociedade Portuguesa de Matemática) was founded in December 1940. To understand the difficulties that the Society had to face we need to look a little at political events in Portugal.

Antonio de Oliveira Salazar became prime minister of Portugal in July 1932. A new constitution was put in place in 1933 which set up the National Assembly, all seats in which were filled by government supporters. Political parties were banned and the government used censorship, propaganda, and political imprisonment in running the country. Many scientists, believing in the importance of scientific knowledge and education, felt that these ends could only be achieved through democratic means. This meant an inevitable conflict between the government and those promoting the new Portuguese Mathematical Society.

One of the first moves the new Society made was to try to expand its membership. To do this the Society had to active throughout the whole country, and also it had to offer something to teachers of mathematics, students of mathematics, as well as those undertaking mathematical research. At this time Portugal suffered [1]:-
... grave deficiencies both in research and education.
The Society tried to improve the situation by setting up committees such as a Pedagogical Committee, a Pure Mathematics Committee, an Applied Mathematics Committee, and a History and Philosophy of Mathematics Committee. Contacts were made with foreign mathematicians and mathematical societies and Fréchet visited Portugal at the invitation of the Society who made him an honorary member.

As part of its aims to promote mathematics, Mathematics Clubs were set up in schools, the first in 1942. all this had been achieved under the first President P J da Cunha who served until 1943. After this B Caraca took over, followed by A Ferreire de Macedo in 1945 and M Zaluar Nunes in 1947. These were faced with increasing difficulties as the government moved against universities [1]:-
Distrust by the government increased and soon serious attacks were made upon science and the universities. The mathematics clubs were declared illegal and banned. In the year 1946-47 an offensive against the universities was launched with disastrous results. A large number of professors, not only of mathematics, lost their jobs. Many had to make their living in different walks of life ... The Portuguese Mathematical Society was prevented from holding its normal meetings because gatherings of many people displeased the political authorities. Moreover it was forbidden to elect another committee.
Despite these almost impossible circumstances the Portuguese Mathematical Society did manage avoid total extinction, although it could not function in any meaningful way. The political situation changed in 1974. On 25 April the dictatorship was overthrown by a coup and democracy was restored with a general election held in April 1975. The Portuguese Mathematical Society became a legal entity in 1977 and once again could begin to function in the way it wished to promote the mathematical sciences at all levels throughout Portugal.

Portugaliae Mathematica had been published since 1939 and continued to be published through the dark years when the Society could not function. However, with the Society flourishing again, it took over control of the journal. The Society took on its role of organising meetings and conferences. The Society also began the work of establishing Olympiad competitions in 1980, the first nations such competitions being three years later. The first Portuguese team participated in the International Olympiad competition for the first time in 1989.

Visit the society website.

References (show)

  1. G de Oliveira, The Portuguese Mathematical Society, European Mathematical Society Newsletter 46 (December, 2002), 32.

Last Updated August 2004