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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

History of mathematics in modern Japan

Project duration: January 2020 - ongoing

While the independent mathematical tradition in Japan of the Edo period (the so-called wasan) has already received a certain amount of attention in historical research, my dissertation was the first monographic treatise on mathematics in modern Japan. Building off of this previous research on the perspectives of institutionalization and the circulation of knowledge, which were applied to mathematics as science in Japan during the Meiji and Taishō periods, this research project expands on these issues thematically and temporally (up to the end of the Second World War).

It is beneficial to look for discontinuities as well as continuities between premodern and modern mathematics in Japan. While the Ministry of Education primarily promoted exchange with European and American mathematicians, the emergence of a national community of specialists and the establishment of Japanese as a scientific language can be seen as a balancing process. However, a strict separation of these aspects is not possible because mathematicians trained abroad at the state’s expense were expected to also provide their knowledge as bureaucrats after returning to Japan. In this light, a broader study that contextualizes mathematics in the higher education system and works out connections to other sciences such as physics is promising.

As journals and textbooks played a central role in linguistic and cultural translation processes, they are of particular interest. From the diverse publication landscape of the Meiji period to the efficient infrastructure for communication within the discipline at the end of the 1930s, there are numerous objects in which perspectives from the sociology of knowledge provide new insights. Since Chinese and Korean students also studied mathematics at Japanese universities and the networks were partially preserved, this project will also contribute to the history of mathematics in East Asia while.