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The end of a bad line

Often when promoting A&SC’s resources to faculty or students I’ll say something like “There’s not a topic taught at this university that we can’t provide archival material to support. Well, except maybe math.” Hokey, I know. Occasionally it gets a laugh. I usually also follow that up with an explanation that I’m almost sure we have stuff the math professors could be using, I just haven’t been creative enough to identify it.

This is something of an irritant to me. I started out college as a math major, figuring on being a professor of math one day. That didn’t last long but somewhere in my deepest of deep hearts, I’m still something of a math geek. Yes, I’m the one at the dinner table figuring out the check and tip. I’m the one who looks at the sale dress and estimates the final cost given all the discounts and taxes. All in my head, most days. I might not be able to do differential equations anymore, but I still appreciate their beauty.

Today, while skimming through a collection trying to identify a document for a researcher, I opened up a folder and found the following item. And it looks like I’ll never deliver that bad line again.

letter from UW math professor to a future engineer for the Alaska Railroad.

letter from UW math professor to a future engineer for the Alaska Railroad.

By the way, if you click on that, you’ll be taken to a larger size scan of the image.

Let me be clear, here. I don’t understand this. At all. I got lost about the point he said “power series with the interval of convergency.”  I might have had some instruction on Bernoulli numbers once, but as Professor Moritz notes, this isn’t exactly something taught in elementary calculus classes (which is about as far as I made it.) But I continue to hold a great deal of admiration for the minds that can do this kind of work.

And, of course, next time I talk to a math prof around here, I’ll see if she or he can give me a quick description of what this letter is about. Maybe I can use it as an outreach moment: See? We really do have materials that pertain to your classes.

If nothing else, I’d like somebody to check the calculations. Because I can’t tell if they’re correct or not. And on a side note, we don’t have Charles Harvard‘s letter to Dr. Moritz, so I don’t know what he was working on that prompted this question. That’s one of the eternal dilemmas of archival materials: sometimes you just don’t get all the answers. Which is a lesson I ably learned while a math major. Which is one of the many reasons why I’m an archivist and not a math professor now. Hopefully to the benefit of both professions.

One Comment

  1. He appears to be missing a coefficient.


    (Converting their formula to his formula, it works, except that, provided this chemistry professor is correct, Dr. Moritz should also have added “(-1)^(n+1)” to the front as a multiplier.)

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