Are there classes dedicated to understanding the work of a particular mathematician?

I have seen courses dedicated to a theorem (I saw for example one that sought to prove and understand the Atiyah-Singer Index theorem, or the prime number theorem.) But I'm wondering about a mathematician-- which sounds difficult given that the prerequisites may be sporadic, but I'm curious if sometimes a course may not culminate in just one theorem, but just cover the work of a prominent mathematician.

I suppose conversely, some courses are dedicated to a particular point of view, such as Algebraic Geometry courses that seek to follow the "Grothendieck philosophy," but this seems difficult from following EGA or something like that.

To clarify, I'm not asking about the pedagogical merits of such a course (although that is an interesting question in and of itself.)

If the course curriculum is available, I would also love access to it.

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    $\begingroup$ Genuinely curious, but why? It seems to me that most math courses should study mathematical ideas and concepts as the goal is their use, referring to those who brought those ideas forward when appropriate. A course dedicated to one person's work risks being dated outside of a history of mathematics course. $\endgroup$
    – Chris C
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 3:21
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    $\begingroup$ @XanderHenderson yes. In philosophy, it is entirely common to have a class on Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, etc. In political theory, there might be a class on Rawls or Rousseau or something like that. I’m not super familiar with curricula in other subjects, but at least in philosophy, it is understood that reading the ideas and writings of the originator came up with is superior to seeing refinements of the ideas in second hand sources— even if this makes the task more difficult. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 14:49
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    $\begingroup$ John Stillwell (amazon.com/John-Stillwell/e/B001IQWNS2 for example) has written many books which tend to take a historical approach. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 23:58
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    $\begingroup$ A class studying the works of Euler could be good for an undergraduate capstone course, perhaps using Dunham's book "Euler: The Master of Us All." $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 12:18
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    $\begingroup$ @SueVanHattum I was thinking that Emmy noether would be a great contender. I think a problem is that a course like this on a modern mathematician is presumably being taught to people who want to go on and become mathematicians or something approximating a mathematician. Surely a course like this is not the best way to go if you want to learn the theory. I think part of this is why the most natural courses are history of math/philosophy bent $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 9, 2017 at 17:49

1 Answer 1


I taught a class based on the work of Bertrand Russell. It was essentially devoted to set theory, but via his life and emerging interest in mathematics, philosophy, and ultimately logic (and its allied emerging fields of set theory and transfinite numbers).

The text I used was the graphic textbook/biography called Logicomix. That alone got a number of students to sign up. They thought they were getting away with something, but actually wound up learning a lot of Mathematics and Mathematical Philosophy, while also rubbing shoulders with Frege, Cantor, the World's Fair of 1900, Russell and his Paradox, David Hilbert's Problems for the new century, and--last but not least--Alice in Wonderland and Lewis Carroll.


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