Case Studies for the Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
Edited By Benjamin Wardhaugh
Reading Mittag-Lef f ler’s biography of Abel as an act of mathematical self-fashioning 115
Henrik Kragh Sørensen Centre for Science Studies, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Aarhus, Denmark Reading Mittag-Lef f ler’s biography of Abel as an act of mathematical self-fashioning Introduction In 1903, Gösta Mittag-Lef f ler (1846–1927) published a biographical essay on the Norwegian mathematician Niels Henrik Abel (1802–1829) in the Swedish magazine Ord och bild.1 Himself a creative Swedish mathematician and an entrepreneur of the discipline, Mittag-Lef f ler described and com- mented upon the life of the most illustrious Scandinavian mathematician of the nineteenth century. Mittag-Lef f ler’s essay followed the traditional compositional structure of a biography, thus detailing the events of Abel’s life from his birth in 1802 to his death a little more than 26 years later. However, Mittag-Lef f ler also supplied observations and evaluations from his privileged position as a productive mathematician, a highly regarded journal editor, and an educator keenly interested in nurturing young math- ematical talent.2 The aim of the present paper is to analyze the authorial 1 Gösta Mittag-Lef f ler, ‘Niels Henrik Abel’, Ord och bild: Illustrerad månadsskrift 12 (1903), 65–85, 129–40. Four years later, the essay was translated into French and published in Paris: Gösta Mittag-Lef f ler, Niels Henrik Abel (Paris: La revue du mois, 1907). In the following, all references and quotations are taken from the original Scandinavian-language editions of biographies, and translated by the author. 2 An extensive biography on Mittag-Lef f ler has recently been published...
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