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'A Corrective to the Spirit of too Exclusively Pure Mathematics': Robert Smith (1689-1768) and his Prizes at Cambridge University

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The Smith's Prize competition was established in Cambridge in 1768 by the will of Robert Smith (1689-1768). By fostering an interest in the study of applied mathematics, the competition contributed towards the success in mathematical physics that was to become the hallmark of Cambridge mathematics during the second half of the nineteenth century. Perceptions of Smith's intentions were to play a part in discussions about the content and balance of the mathematics curriculum, as may be seen in the Airy quotation in the title. In the twentieth century the competition acted to stimulate the formalization of Cambridge postgraduate research in mathematics. Throughout its existence the competition has played a significant role by providing a springboard for graduates considering an academic career and the majority of prize-winners have gone on to become professional mathematicians or physicists. In seeking the reasons behind the competition's success, attention has been paid to the life and work of Robert Smith, the intention behind his bequest, and the history of the competition from its origins until 1940.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 1999-07-01

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