My current book project focuses on the manifold ways in which mathematics can function as an object of – or catalyst to – international cultural exchange in times of both peace and war. I trace the history of New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences as a case study, with a particular focus on the dynamic relationships between the Courant Institute mathematicians and their peers in the military, government, private foundations and academia – both in the United States and abroad. Founded by the German-Jewish émigré mathematician Richard Courant in the 1930s, I argue that the Institute represented a synthesis of Enlightenment and Humboldtian educational systems, combining the Enlightenment ideologies and mathematical rigor of the École polytechnique with the Romantic and intellectually holistic notions of the Humboldtian university. The core mission of the Institute was to instill a particular ideology about science and technology: a balance between pure and applied research agendas; a combination of advanced training with research; and stressing applications of mathematics to engineering and other technical fields. I also examine how the Institute’s mathematicians negotiated the complex landscape of academic research and public service during the Second World War and in the postwar and Cold War eras. I argue that they understood their social roles and cultural identities to be more than academic, as they served as scientific ambassadors to postwar Germany and the Cold War Soviet Union; contracted scientific advisors and researchers to the military and government; and informants on the status of scientific life in other nations to the American government and private organizations. Ultimately, I argue that these mathematicians, engaged in what is widely understood to be a cerebral endeavor, were part and parcel of their social, cultural and political environment throughout the twentieth-century in the United States and abroad.
"Mathematics, Peace, and the Cold War: Scientific Diplomacy and Richard Courant’s Scientific Identity," Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences