Johann Bernoulli Stichting voor de Wiskunde te Groningen

Mathematicians in Groningen

This site will give an overview of the history of mathematics at the University of Groningen from its beginning in 1614 up to the end of the last century. On the left-hand side there is a list of mathematicians who have been working at the University of Groningen. More information about these people can be obtained by clicking their names. This is a work in progress: existing material will be supplemented by new contributions. These contributions will be provided by various people; there will be no uniformity in presentation. Comments or additions can be sent to Henk Broer (email: broerhw@gmail.com), Jan van Maanen (email: J.A.vanMaanen@uu.nl), or Henk de Snoo (email: hsvdesnoo@gmail.com).

Since the end of the sixteenth century there were two universities in the Northern provinces of the Netherlands: the older one was in Franeker (1585-1843) in the province of Friesland and the younger one was in Groningen, the capital of the province of the same name. In both places the topic of mathematics was taught; in fact in Franeker Descartes has been a student for a while.

In Groningen the first professor in mathematics was Nicolaus Mulerius (1614-1630) who basically was a medical doctor, but he was also astronomer. The appointments after him were also connected with non-mathematical fields. In fact, there was a long line (sometimes interrupted for some time) of more or less colorful professors whose main interest was not mathematics per se. Of course the one big exception in the first 260 years was Johann Bernoulli (1695-1705) and even in his case there were teaching duties in medicine.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century the academic atmosphere in the Northern provinces (and elsewhere in the Netherlands) was not too promising. The university of Franeker ceased to exist in 1843 and the university of Groningen did not have a very bright future either. In this period the idea that everything in the Netherlands appeared 50 years later than anywhere else must have found its origin.


Lijst van hoogleraren wiskunde aan de Groninger Universiteit tot ca. 1900, zoals getoond bij de alumni-bijeenkomst van 1992 (Wout Knol)

The general state of affairs of Dutch mathematics at that time was characterised by Floris de Boer. In his lecture to open the academic year as rector of the university in 1896: Nadat Nederland geruime tijd aan de spits der wiskundige beschaving had gemarcheerd, verliet het plotseling de gelederen geheel, en nam gedurende langer dan een eeuw zelfs geen plaats in de achterhoede meer in.

But then somewhere after the middle of the century there appeared the politician Thorbecke who gave his name to a reorganization of secondary schools. This had a tremendous influence, also in the universities. Teachers in the new high schools were in demand and they would very often have a doctor's degree. Especially in mathematics the new university professors would be recruited most of the time from a large pool of high school teachers. And they in turn would keep an eye on the level of the examination in those high schools.

From this pool of high school teachers came the new promising appointments of the geometer P.H. Schoute (1881-1913) and the mathematician and physicist H.J. Rink (1877-1883). The last one died young and unexpectedly and in his place F. de Boer (1884-1908) was appointed. They were followed by J.A. Barrau (1913-1928), B.L. van der Waerden (1928-1931), and G. Schaake (1931-1945); and by F. Schuh (1909-1916), J. Wolff (1917-1922), and J.G. van der Corput (1923-1946).

The period after the war started with a continuation of the earlier interests: after the death of Schaake and the departure of Van der Corput the new appointments were J.C.H. Gerretsen (1946-1977) and C.S. Meijer (1946-1972). The position of J. Ridder (1931-1962) who started out as a lector was upgraded to professor. The growing need for applied mathematics that was already felt by parts of the mathematical community during the war resulted succesively in positions for L.J. Smid (1952-1971), A.I. van de Vooren (1958-1984), J.A. Sparenberg (1961-1990), and P.M.E.M. van der Grinten (1969-1972).

More about mathematicians in Groningen:

  • J.G. van der Corput, Overzicht Nederlandse wiskunde in eerste helft van de 20ste eeuw. In Dr K.E. Proost en Prof dr Jan Romein, Geestelijk Nederland 1920-1940 Deel II, De Wetenschappen van Natuur, Mens en Maatschappij. N.V. Uitg.-Mij Kosmos - Amsterdam - Antwerpen 1948
  • D. van Dalen, L.E.J. Brouwer, 1881-1966, een biografie: het heldere licht van de wiskunde. Bert Bakker 2001
  • D. van Dalen, L.E.J. Brouwer: Topologist, Intuitionist, Philospher: How Mathematics is Rooted in Life. Springer 2013
  • H. Kubbinga, The astronomical instruments (1618) and Catalogus librorum (1646) of Nicolaus Mulerius, with an essay on his place in the history of science. Groningen University Press 2014
  • J.A. van Maanen, Een complexe grootheid: leven en werk van Johann Bernoulli 1667 - 1748. Epsilon Uitgaven 34, 1995
  • D. van Netten, Nicolaus Mulerius (1564-1630): Een geleerde uit Groningen in de discussies van zijn tijd. Barkhaus 2010
  • G. Sierksma, Bernoulli, Johann (1667-1748) - His turbulent years in Groningen. Mathematical Intelligencer 14(4) 22-31, 1992
  • G. Sierksma, The mathematical sciences in Groningen before and after Bernoulli’s stay. Nieuw Archief voor Wiskunde 13(1) 37-48, 1995

Background historical information:

  • G. Alberts, Jaren van berekening. Toepassingsgerichte initiatieven in de Nederlandse wiskundebeoefening 1945-1960. Amsterdam University Press 1998
  • G.Baneke, De Groningse eeuw van de natuurwetenschappen. In Boekvorm Uitgevers 2005
  • K. van Berkel, Universiteit van het Noorden. Vier eeuwen academisch leven in Groningen. Deel 1: De oude universiteit 1614-1876; Deel 2: De klassieke universiteit 1876-1945. Verloren, Hilversum, 2014, 2017
  • Het Biografisch Portaal van Nederland
  • W.B.S. Boeles, Levenschetsen der Groninger Hoogleeraren. In: W.J.A. Jonckbloet, Gedenkboek der Hoogeschool te Groningen ter gelegenheid van haar vijfde halve eeuwfeest, Groningen 1864.
  • G. van Dijk, Leidse hoogleraren Wiskunde 1575-1975 Universiteit Leiden 2011
  • Effigies et vitae professorum Academiae Groningae & Omlandiae (Groningen, 1654); repr. (1968)
  • J. Guichelaar en G.B. Huitema, Verbinden en verspreiden. De kracht van het Koninklijk Natuurkundig Genootschap te Groningen. In: J. Guichelaar, G.B. Huitema en H. de Jong (redactie), Zekerheden in waarnemingen - Natuurwetenschappelijke ontwikkelingen in Nederland rond 1900. Verloren 2012
  • M.C. van Hoorn, Obe Postma als leraar aan de Rijks-hbs te Groningen. In: J. Guichelaar, G.B. Huitema en H. de Jong (redactie), Zekerheden in waarnemingen - Natuurwetenschappelijke ontwikkelingen in Nederland rond 1900. Verloren 2012
  • J. Huizinga, Academia Groningana. Noordhoff 1914
  • J. Israel, The Dutch Republic. Its Rise, Greatness, and Fall 1477-1806. Clarendon Press 1998
  • P.C. van der Kruit, HET KONINKLIJK NATUURKUNDIG GENOOTSCHAP - ter gelegenheid van de verlenging van het Predicaat Koninklijk. Voordracht KNG 7 september 2012
  • MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive
  • E. Visser (ed.), Universitas Groningana 1914-1964. Wolters 1964
  • B. Willink, De tweede Gouden Eeuw: Nederland en de Nobelprijzen voor natuurwetenschappen 1870-1940. BMGN - Low Countries Historical Review 114(3), 1998