Tom Whiteside

Last updated

Tom Whiteside
Born(1932-07-23)23 July 1932
Died22 April 2008(2008-04-22) (aged 75)
Awards Koyré Medal (1968)
FBA (1975)
George Sarton Medal (1977) [1]
Scientific career
Thesis Patterns of mathematical thought in the later seventeenth century  (1961)
Doctoral advisor Richard Braithwaite
Michael Hoskin [2]

Derek Thomas Whiteside FBA (23 July 1932 – 22 April 2008 [3] ) was a British historian of mathematics.



In 1954 Whiteside graduated from Bristol University with a B.A. having studied French, Latin, mathematics and philosophy. He had spent part of 1952 studying at the Sorbonne. In 1956 he began graduate study with Richard Braithwaite who referred him to Michael Hoskin. In 1959 he submitted the manuscript "Mathematical patterns of thought in the late seventeenth century" to Hoskin who submitted it to Archive for History of Exact Sciences for publication.

Hoskin and Whiteside were joined by Adolf Prag to edit the eight volume Mathematical Papers of Isaac Newton (1967 to 1981). [4] Reviewing first volume of the work, Christoph Scriba wrote, "...must be praised the extraordinary care and conscientiousness of the editor who collected, organized, transcribed and edited the wealth of material in a superb way." [5] According to Carl Boyer, "Historians of science in general, and Newtonian scholars in particular, owe a heavy debt of gratitude to Dr Whiteside for the altogether exemplary manner in which he is making available to us the ample evidence concerning the making of one of the world's three greatest mathematicians." [6] Boyer also notes that "Rene Descartes and two Hollanders, Hudde and van Schooten, are cited more frequently than are Barrow and Wallis", discounting the notion that Isaac Barrow was Newton's teacher. Rosalind Tanner described the beginning of volume one: "the Preface, Editorial Note, General Introduction, and brief Forward to Volume 1, providing in turn the story of the undertaking, the how and why of the presentation, the history of the Newton manuscripts, and the scope of this Volume 1, and each in its way a notable achievement." [7] Tanner also reviewed volume 2 and its concern with Gerhard Kinkhuysen's Dutch textbook on algebra, partially translated into Latin by Nicholas Mercator, and worked on by Newton until the project was abandoned in 1676. [8]

In 1969 Whiteside became Assistant Director of Research in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge University. He also was Senior Research Fellow at Churchill College. He was elected Fellow of the British Academy in 1975 and promoted to Reader at Cambridge the following year. In 1987 he moved to the department of Pure Mathematics, but his health began to fail. In 1992 Cambridge organized a festschrift in his honour: The Investigation of Difficult Things. [4]

Tom and Ruth Whiteside had two children, Simon and Philippa, [9] to whom volume 8 of Mathematical Papers of Isaac Newton was dedicated.

Whiteside retired in 1999 and died 22 April 2008.

Isaac Newton

Whiteside wrote a 19-page non-technical account, Newton the Mathematician. [10] In this essay he describes Newton's mathematical development starting in secondary school. Whiteside says that the most important influence on Newton's mathematical development was Book II of René Descartes's La Géométrie. [11] Book II is devoted to a problem that had been considered and partly solved by Pappus of Alexandria and Apollonius of Perga. Descartes completely solved the problem, inventing new mathematics as needed. The problem is this: Given n lines L, with points P(L) on them, find the locus of points Q, such that the lengths of the line segments QP(C) satisfy certain conditions. For example, if n = 4, given lines a, b, c, and d and a point A on a, B on b, and so on, find the locus of points Q such that the product QA*QB equals the product QC*QD. When the lines are not all parallel, Pappus had shown that the locus of points Q was a conic section. Descartes considered larger n, allowing some lines to be parallel, and he obtained cubic and higher degree curves. He was able to do this by producing the equation that the points of Q satisfy, using the Cartesian coordinate system. The rest of Descartes' Book II is occupied with showing that the cubic curves arise naturally in the study of optics from the Snell-Descartes Law. Newton developed an interest in optics. Newton was inspired to undertake the classification of cubic curves, and he identified 72 of the 78 different species. [12] [13] [14]


Related Research Articles

Isaac Newton Influential British physicist and mathematician

Sir Isaac Newton was an English mathematician, physicist, astronomer, theologian, and author who is widely recognised as one of the most influential scientists of all time and as a key figure in the scientific revolution. His book Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, first published in 1687, established classical mechanics. Newton also made seminal contributions to optics, and shares credit with Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz for developing the infinitesimal calculus.

Inertia is the resistance of any physical object to any change in its velocity. This includes changes to the object's speed, or direction of motion. An aspect of this property is the tendency of objects to keep moving in a straight line at a constant speed, when no forces act upon them.

René Descartes 17th-century French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist

René Descartes was a French-born philosopher, mathematician, and scientist who spent a large portion of his working life in the Dutch Republic, initially serving the Dutch States Army of Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange and the Stadtholder of the United Provinces. One of the most notable intellectual figures of the Dutch Golden Age, Descartes is also widely regarded as one of the founders of modern philosophy.

The Scientific Revolution was a series of events that marked the emergence of modern science during the early modern period, when developments in mathematics, physics, astronomy, biology and chemistry transformed the views of society about nature. The Scientific Revolution took place in Europe towards the end of the Renaissance period and continued through the late 18th century, influencing the intellectual social movement known as the Enlightenment. While its dates are debated, the publication in 1543 of Nicolaus Copernicus' De revolutionibus orbium coelestium is often cited as marking the beginning of the Scientific Revolution.

<i>Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica</i> 1687 tract by Isaac Newton

Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, often referred to as simply the Principia, is a work in three books by Isaac Newton, in Latin, first published 5 July 1687. After annotating and correcting his personal copy of the first edition, Newton published two further editions, in 1713 and 1726. The Principia states Newton's laws of motion, forming the foundation of classical mechanics; Newton's law of universal gravitation; and a derivation of Kepler's laws of planetary motion.

Alexis Clairaut French mathematician, astronomer, and geophysicist

Alexis Claude Clairaut was a French mathematician, astronomer, and geophysicist. He was a prominent Newtonian whose work helped to establish the validity of the principles and results that Sir Isaac Newton had outlined in the Principia of 1687. Clairaut was one of the key figures in the expedition to Lapland that helped to confirm Newton's theory for the figure of the Earth. In that context, Clairaut worked out a mathematical result now known as "Clairaut's theorem". He also tackled the gravitational three-body problem, being the first to obtain a satisfactory result for the apsidal precession of the Moon's orbit. In mathematics he is also credited with Clairaut's equation and Clairaut's relation.

Roger Cotes

Roger Cotes FRS was an English mathematician, known for working closely with Isaac Newton by proofreading the second edition of his famous book, the Principia, before publication. He also invented the quadrature formulas known as Newton–Cotes formulas, and made a geometric argument that can be interpreted as a logarithmic version of Euler's formula. He was the first Plumian Professor at Cambridge University from 1707 until his death.

Newton's law of universal gravitation is usually stated as that every particle attracts every other particle in the universe with a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between their centers. The publication of the theory has become known as the "first great unification", as it marked the unification of the previously described phenomena of gravity on Earth with known astronomical behaviors.

Early life of Isaac Newton

The following article is part of a biography of Sir Isaac Newton, the English mathematician and scientist, author of the Principia. It portrays the years after Newton's birth in 1642, his education, as well as his early scientific contributions, before the writing of his main work, the Principia Mathematica, in 1685.

<i>Opticks</i> Book by Isaac Newton

Opticks: or, A Treatise of the Reflexions, Refractions, Inflexions and Colours of Light is a book by English natural philosopher Isaac Newton that was published in English in 1704. The book analyzes the fundamental nature of light by means of the refraction of light with prisms and lenses, the diffraction of light by closely spaced sheets of glass, and the behaviour of color mixtures with spectral lights or pigment powders. It is considered one of the great works of science in history. Opticks was Newton's second major book on physical science. Newton's name did not appear on the title page of the first edition of Opticks.

I. Bernard Cohen was the Victor S. Thomas Professor of the history of science at Harvard University and the author of many books on the history of science and, in particular, Isaac Newton.

Willem s Gravesande

Willem Jacob 's Gravesande was a Dutch mathematician and natural philosopher, chiefly remembered for developing experimental demonstrations of the laws of classical mechanics. As professor of mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy at Leiden University, he helped to propagate Isaac Newton's ideas in Continental Europe.

De motu corporum in gyrum is the presumed title of a manuscript by Isaac Newton sent to Edmond Halley in November 1684. The manuscript was prompted by a visit from Halley earlier that year when he had questioned Newton about problems then occupying the minds of Halley and his scientific circle in London, including Sir Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke.

Leibniz–Newton calculus controversy

The calculus controversy was an argument between the mathematicians Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz over who had first invented calculus. The question was a major intellectual controversy, which began simmering in 1699 and broke out in full force in 1711. Leibniz had published his work first, but Newton's supporters accused Leibniz of plagiarizing Newton's unpublished ideas. Leibniz died in disfavor in 1716 after his patron, the Elector Georg Ludwig of Hanover, became King George I of Great Britain in 1714. The modern consensus is that the two men developed their ideas independently.

The "General Scholium" is an essay written by Isaac Newton, appended to his work of Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, known as the Principia. It was first published with the second (1713) edition of the Principia and reappeared with some additions and modifications on the third (1726) edition. It is best known for the "Hypotheses non fingo" expression, which Newton used as a response to some of the criticism received after the release of the first edition (1687). In the essay Newton not only counters the natural philosophy of René Descartes and Gottfried Leibniz, but also addresses issues of scientific methodology, theology, and metaphysics.


Newtonianism is a philosophical and scientific doctrine inspired by the beliefs and methods of natural philosopher Isaac Newton. While Newton's influential contributions were primarily in physics and mathematics, his broad conception of the universe as being governed by rational and understandable laws laid the foundation for many strands of Enlightenment thought. Newtonianism became an influential intellectual program that applied Newton's principles in many avenues of inquiry, laying the groundwork for modern science, in addition to influencing philosophy, political thought and theology.

Isaac Newton was an English mathematician, natural philosopher, theologian, alchemist and one of the most influential scientists in human history. His Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica is considered to be one of the most influential books in the history of science, laying the groundwork for most of classical mechanics by describing universal gravitation and the three laws of motion. In mathematics, Newton shares the credit with Gottfried Leibniz for the development of the differential and integral calculus.

Cartesian oval

In geometry, a Cartesian oval, named after René Descartes, is a plane curve, the set of points that have the same linear combination of distances from two fixed points.

Niccolò Guicciardini

Niccolò Guicciardini Corsi Salviati is an Italian historian of mathematics. He is a professor at the University of Milan, and is known for his studies on the works of Isaac Newton.

Antoine Cavalleri (1698–1765) was a Jesuit professor of mathematics at Cahors during much of the French Enlightenment in the 18th century, until late in the reign of Louis XV of France.


  1. Professor Tom Whiteside, 1932-2008, Cambridge University Department of History and Philosophy of Science, archived from the original on 14 July 2009, retrieved 2 May 2009
  2. "Professor Tom Whiteside", The Times, 7 May 2008
  3. Bursill-Hall, Piers (3 May 2008), "Professor D. T. Whiteside: Historian of mathematics whose prodigious work on Newton's papers astonished the scholarly world", The Independent, retrieved 17 July 2008
  4. 1 2 Hoskin, Michael (August 2008), "Derek Thomas Whiteside (1932–2008)", Journal for the History of Astronomy, 39 (136): 402–404, Bibcode:2008JHA....39..402H, doi:10.1177/002182860803900308, S2CID   125923183, archived from the original on 16 July 2011
  5. C. J. Scriba (1968) Review of volume 1: Mathematical Papers of Isaac Newton, MR 0214426
  6. Carl Boyer (1967) Review: Volume 1: Mathematical Papers of Isaac Newton, History of Science 6(1): 97–106
  7. R. C. H. Tanner (1969) Journal of the London Mathematical Society, S1-44(1)
  8. R.C.H. Tanner (1969) Journal of the London Mathematical Society S1-44(1): 669–70
  9. Shapiro, Alan (5 May 2008), "DT Whiteside", The Guardian
  10. Zev Bechler, editor, Contemporary Newtonian Research, pp. 109-127, Studies in the History of Modern Science volume 9, 1982, D. Reidel Publishing Co, Dordrecht, Holland, Boston, USA, London, England.
  11. The Geometry of Rene Descartes (Dover Books on Mathematics) by Rene Descartes, David Eugene Smith and Marcia L. Latham (1 Jun 1954).
  12. Robert Bix, Conics and Cubics, Springer Verlag, p. 128 et seq, 2nd edition, 2006
  13. Fleming, Craig (1 May 2008), "Maths prof from Blackpool slums dies", The Blackpool Gazette
  14. "University offices vacated during the academical year 1998-99". Cambridge University Reporter. 21 September 1999. Retrieved 29 September 2011.