The Royal Spanish Mathematical Society

Founded in 1911

The Spanish Mathematical Society, the Sociedad Matemática Española (later the Royal Spanish Mathematical Society, the Real Sociedad Matemática Espanola) was founded in 1911. To understand the context in which it was formed, and the difficulties it experienced during its first few years, we need to look at the position of mathematics in Spain in the years before its founding.

In the last quarter of the 19th century, most Spanish mathematicians were either civil engineers or military men in the Army or Navy. There were, of course, mathematics teachers in the schools and in the universities but these did not play much of a role in Spanish society. For example Zoel Garcia de Galdeano (1846-1924) was professor of mathematics at various schools and institutes throughout Spain. In 1891 he founded the first Spanish mathematics journal El progresso Matemático. It stopped publishing in 1895 but was restarted in 1899, failing again after only one year. The main reason the journal failed was a lack of quality material. In 1907 the Board for Advanced Studies and Scientific Research, the Junta para Ampliación de Estudios e Investigaciones (JAE), was founded. This was created in order to reform secondary school education in Spain. It awarded funds to study teaching methods in Berlin, Geneva, London and Cambridge. The JAE was well-funded while universities were not and this led to considerable tension between the Junta and the university teachers.

In 1908 the Spanish Association for the Advancement of Science, the Asociación Espanola para el Progreso de la Ciencia (AEPC), was founded. At the first Congress of the AEPC it was proposed by Manuel Benitez y Parodi (1845-1911), a military general, that a mathematics society be founded and this led to the founding of the Spanish Mathematical Society in 1911. Manuel Benitez, José Echegaray y Eizaguirre (1832-1916) who was a civil engineer, and Julio Rey Pastor played a major role in establishing the Society. It had 358 founding members among whom 92 of whom were school teachers, 39 were university teachers and 57 were students. Gomes Teixeira was the only honorary founding member and Henri Brocard was the only corresponding member. The first president of the Society was José Echegaray y Eizaguirre and the first secretary was Julio Rey Pastor.

In May 1911 the Society published the first part of its journal, the Revista de la Sociedad Matemática Espanola. The editor of the journal was Cecilio Jiménez Rueda. However, the journal suffered from the same problems that had forced the closure of El progresso Matemático in 1900. The problems came to a head in 1915 when Rey Pastor criticised senior members of the Society and argued that it was necessary for Spanish mathematics to become a part of the Europe wide mathematics scene. In an address to the Spanish Association for the Advancement of Science, Rey Pastor spoke of Spanish mathematicians:-
... who negate the necessity of progress; some of whom because they are not modern since they do not recognise the European mathematical culture; others, who are ignorant and ignore the necessity despite knowledge of this culture through travel or lectures; and others still who are not acquainted with this culture and are not modern, nor would be even if they did recognise it. It is easy to predict then, the attitude of the [this] group, upon hearing for the hundredth time that tiresome word: revision. Lovers of the semi-darkness, like spiders, they do not tolerate a single ray of light, which could illuminate the half-light of their comfortable position, obliging them perhaps to leave it. They speak to us of patriotism, they whom have produced nothing useful, believing, without a doubt, that the patria is improved through books and vindicating speeches composed of rhetorical falsehoods. They speak to us of "deeply rooted national traditions, which ought not to be destroyed nor erased" as if we were able to assert influence over the geographical factor in a discipline so essentially international as mathematics.
The result was that Spanish mathematicians became unwilling to publish their results for fear of being labelled as substandard. In the 1915 volume of the Revista the editor Jiménez published a hard hitting editorial which stated:-
When all Spanish mathematical papers are accused of discovering things already discovered, one hears talk of semi-obscurity in which, like bats, a group of Spanish mathematicians enjoy a comfortable position, when it is alleged that the Spanish Mathematical Society has lived long enough already and we must incorporate ourselves into the European scientific movement, was can understand the fear that many worthy persons display when we ask them to contribute to our journal.
If this honest assessment of the problem was intended to encourage contributions to the journal, it was not successful. In April 1917 the Revista ceased publication and the Spanish Mathematical Society was in a serious crisis. Rey Pastor had certainly played his part in supporting the journal, particularly in the period 1911-13, with a series of papers. He would rescue the failing Society.

Our discussion of the Revista has taken us up to 1917 but we should go back to 1915 for in that year, at the suggestion of the Spanish Mathematical Society, the Mathematical Laboratory and Seminar of the Board for Advanced Studies and Scientific Research was created. This Mathematical Laboratory was created as a research institute aimed at bringing Spanish mathematical research up to the level of leading European countries. One might think that the Mathematical Laboratory would be welcomed by the universities but in fact this was not the case. It would appear that most mathematicians teaching in the Spanish universities were happy to continue as teachers and did not want to be pushed towards undertaking original research.

In 1916 Zoel Garcia de Galdeano who had founded the first failed Spanish mathematical journal became the second president of the Spanish Mathematical Society. It must have been a great sadness to him to see this second Spanish mathematical journal, the Revista, fail in 1917. With the Society in crisis, it was Rey Pastor who revitalised it in 1919. A new journal, the Revista Matemática Hispano-Americana, was founded in 1919 and this was mentioned by G A Miller in an article in Science in 1919. G A Miller writes:-
General interest in this new mathematical periodical may perhaps be enlisted by the candid manner in which the unfavourable mathematical situation among the Spanish-speaking people is depicted in a short note appearing in the first number of this journal. The comparatively slight contributions made by these people along the line of mathematical research stands in great contrast with the large advances made by the people living immediately north of Spain. One of the most important steps towards a remedy of an unfortunate public situation is to exhibit the general need for such a remedy. It is hoped that the present journal may be successful in this direction and also in awakening interest in a field which is so fundamental for the further scientific development of the people using the Spanish language. The editor of the journal is J Rey Pastor.
This journal was successful but the Society itself went through a number of crises over the years that followed. The second one was a result of the civil war, 1936-39, and in 1941 the Society was again re-established, this time by Franco's dictatorship. A third crisis in 1961 was followed by a fourth, very deep crisis, which began in 1990 and continued until the Society was again re-established in 1996. This led to its current most active period and it now had around 2000 members.

Finally let us consider the journals published by the Spanish Mathematical Society. Revista Matemática Hispano-Americana which was founded by Rey Pastor in 1919 has continued to be published but it changed its name to Revista Matemática Iberoamericana in 1985 when it began again from Volume 1. Starting with Volume 28 (2012), Revista Matemática Iberoamericana has been printed and distributed by the Publishing House of the European Mathematical Society. The Society published the journal Gaceta Matemática beginning in 1949. This was published on an irregular basis until 1982 when it ceased publication with Volume 34. La Gaceta de la Real Sociedad Matemática Espanola began publication in 1998, with 3 issues per volume per year. It continues to be published.

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Last Updated February 2017