British Connection


In 1981, Robin Wilson from the Open University in England was visiting the University of Colorado at Denver. That spring, Colorado College sponsored the regional meeting of the Mathematics Association of America. In a spirit of cameraderie, Wilson attended the meeting just 60 miles south of Denver. There he met John Watkins, a fellow graph theorist in the mathematics department and they struck a friendship that led to an invitation for Wilson to visit the college. In the fall of 1982, Wilson spent a semester teaching at Colorado College and since then he has visited almost regularly.

Robin Wilson earned his B.A. degree from Oxford University in 1965, his M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1966, and his Ph.D. from Pennsylvania in 1968. He is a well-known graph theorist with several books to his credit and a strong interest in the history of mathematics. Wilson collaborated with Watkins in 1990 on an introductory graph theory text.

Professor Wilson is also known for his lively talks where he sometimes takes on the role of an historical figure and never backs away from a well-placed pun. While at the college in the spring of 1999, he orchestrated a presentation on the life of Lewis Carroll; Wilson played Carroll and most of the mathematical community (and several other faculty) participated in a variety of supporting roles. His talents and interests extend into music where he is an accomplished singer as well as an expert on Gilbert and Sullivan. One can tell from Wilson's sartorial choices (his outfits either illustrate or disprove the four color theorem) that he stands out from the crowd.

Robin often spoke to Colorado College audiences about stamp collecting; he has an incredible collection of postage stamps with mathematical themes. His long-term hobby resulted in a book "Stamping Through Mathematics" published by Springer Verlag in 2001.

In 1993, Wilson was due to teach a block on Isaac Newton (jointly with Professor McJimsey of the History Department) when he fell ill and had to withdraw at the last moment. His Open University colleague John Fauvel (who during a short visit some years earlier had given a lecture with Robin in connection with their book Let Newton Be!) was fortuitously able to step in to save the block. The department didn't forget their unexpected visitor and in the spring semester of 1999 invited Fauvel as a Fulbright scholar. Fauvel's expertise in the history of mathematics and science enlivened the classics department, the history department, and the mathematics department.

Fauvel earned a B.A. degree in mathematics from the University of Essex (1970), a M.A. degree from Warwick (1971), and a M.Phil. degree from Warwick (1976). His mathematical background and keen interest in history led to the design of several Open University courses and the well-received courses at Colorado College: Emergence of Modern Science and Ancient Greek Mathematics and Science. As his Fulbright scholarship had a dual teaching and research character, some of his time was devoted to uncovering the crucial role of Florian Cajori and other mathematicians in the early years of Colorado College. As a side effect of his research activity and energy, he brought many of the relevant riches of the Tutt Library Special Collections to a wider audience and spurred the development of this Web site history of the mathematics department.

Sadly, John died on May 12, 2001 of a disfunctional liver and kidney. He had suffered with a liver condition for ten years prior and had been put on a list for a transplant, but the suddenness of his death shocked his friends around the world. Mike Siddoway in the Colorado College Math Department organized a John Fauvel Memorial Conference held on September 21 and 22 of 2001. John will be missed, and there is a huge gap in the ranks of mathematical historians.


In May of 1999, Robin Wilson orchestrated a performance of Alice in Palmerland, a lecture/drama tracing the life of Lewis Carroll. John Fauvel played the Mad Hatter.



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