Why 102 years is a centenary

15th March 1996 at 00:00
Editor, Steve Abbott, explains how The Mathematical Gazette seems to have a problem with numbers.

You would think mathematicians could cope with counting up to 100, but the centenary of The Mathematical Gazette is being celebrated 102 years after the first issue. The reason is that the practice of numbering volumes - a sign that the Association for the Improvement of Geometrical Teaching (AIGT) expected its new journal to last - began in 1896, two years into production.

The Gazette was launched in 1894 by two teachers, R Wormell and E M Langley. Langley edited the first six issues encouraged by AIGT President Wormell. A century later, the Gazette is again in the hands of two teachers: Bill Richardson, president-designate of the Mathematical Association (as the AIGT became in 1897), who is responsible for typesetting and production, and myself as editor.

In past years, the Gazette has been criticised for neglecting the ordinary teacher, so it is gratifying to report that we both teach in state comprehensive schools. Bill is principal teacher of mathematics at Elgin Academy and I am head of mathematics at Farlingaye High School, Woodbridge.

The modern Gazette is different in many ways to the early issues, but its primary purpose has not changed much. Langley wrote in 1894: "It cannot be doubted that many teachers are in possession of methods of their own which experience has shown to be better than most in vogue. They are asked to let others have the advantage of knowing these special methods."

Sixty years later, the then editor, T A A Broadbent, highlighted another enduring aim: "A steady perusal of the Gazette's review pages will bring a very wide field of knowledge before the reader's eyes and show him a multitude of pathways along which he may run, walk or dawdle as the fancy takes him. To my mind there is no better way of keeping in touch with the work of the hour. "

Since 1971, when Mathematics in School was launched, the Gazette has concentrated on maths teaching at sixth-form and early undergraduate level. It has a unique role in bringing teachers and university lecturers into contact with each other. It doesn't publish research papers at the leading edge of mathematics, but helps to keep readers informed about modern ideas. Many articles are quite short, offering a new approach to a familiar problem, or showing how well-known ideas can be applied in new ways. Longer articles offer educational debate, background, and more ambitious forays into the mathematical undergrowth.

Gazette readers are rather special. In schools they are the mathematics teachers who are interested in mathematics; in universities, they are the lecturers with an interest in teaching. Their interests often survive retirement - which many see as a chance to read the Gazette in more detail. Many readers are also contributors, a role shared with such eminent names over the years as G H Hardy, Bertrand Russell, A S Eddington and J E Littlewood.

The reputation of the Gazette was built by its longest-serving editor, William Greenstreet, who served from 1899 to 1930. His predecessor, F S Macauley, had introduced book reviews and Greenstreet increased their number and quality. A later editor, E H Neville wrote that "the review pages of [Greenstreet's] Gazette were admitted to be among the best in the world". Greenstreet also included more pedagogical articles and began the popular feature "Gleanings Far and Near" in which page ends were filled with newspaper snippets such as this from The Times in 1982: "A total television audience of 10 billion, more than twice the world's population, watched this year's World Cup Final."

The Gazette is a world-renowned journal, attracting readers and contributors from many countries, including Spain, Bulgaria, India, Japan, the United States, China and Australia. To celebrate the centenary, contributions were invited from prominent educationalists, mathematicians and mathematical authors, past presidents of the Mathematical Association, previous editors and some of the "old hands" whose articles and notes have been the mainstay of the Gazette over the years.

Some wrote surveys of 20th-century mathematics, a subject so vast that each author could only cover a small fraction: Fields Medallists Sir Michael Atiyah, on Geometry and Physics, and Alan Baker on Aspects of Number Theory, are world experts; Graham Hoare, on Mathematical Logic, is a teacher and Gazette problems editor.

Authors Martin Gardner, Ian Stewart and Keith Devlin generously sent articles which sit alongside the efforts of long-time Gazette teacher-writers Donald Eperson (who first wrote in 1933), Martyn Cundy (1942) and Robert Pargeter (1943). The surviving past editors, Nick MacKinnon, Victor Bryant and Douglas Quadling also obliged, the last with a history of text- books from Godfrey and Siddons to SMP 11-16.

The educational theme also attracted Geoffrey Howson, John Hersee and TES regular Tony Gardiner. Sir William McCrea and Lady Jeffreys wrote about the Mathematical Association in days gone by, while in Sir Bryan Thwaites' article, prizes of Pounds 100 and Pounds 1,000 are offered for proof of his two conjectures.

Many colleagues have asked me where I find the time to be an editor. The task is time-consuming, but also very rewarding. Bill Richardson and I have one advantage over our predecessors, which is the use of electronic communication and typesetting. My job mainly involves reading articles and referees' reports (250 a year), writing letters, selecting and polishing submitted articles. Bill then transfers the articles from disc or paper to TechWriter files. Much time is spent putting in the mathematical symbols which rarely transfer easily from the original source.

In the past, typesetting involved a large workforce of compositors, and several stages of proof-reading. Now proof-reading is done by volunteers Keith Barnett and Colin Davis, and returned to me for final approval. Corrections often have to be discussed by telephone since Bill and I live far apart. Finally, Bill sends the issue to Leicester Printers on a computer disc.

The result of all this activity is that when The Mathematical Gazette drops through my letterbox, I have read most of it three times. I hope you will too!

If you are interested in receiving The Mathematical Gazette, write to The Executive Secretary, The Mathematical Association, 259 London Road, Leicester, LE2 3BE, tel: 0116 270 3877, fax: 0116 244 8508

Steve Abbott, head of maths at Farlingaye High School in Suffolk, has been editor of The Mathematical Gazette since 1994

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