Charles Herschel Sisam

Years at the college:  1918 - 1948

B.A. Michigan 1902
M.A. Cornell 1903
Ph.D. Cornell 1906


Charles Sisam (1879-1964) was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, studied as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan and took his masters and doctorate at Cornell University. His post-graduate experience also included studying in Europe at Gottingen and Turin. He was an instructor in mathematics at the US Naval Academy for two years, and taught at the University of Illinois for twelve years before joining the college faculty in 1918. Here he did his best to fill the vast hole left when Florian Cajori moved to Berkeley.

With considerable previous experience, he rose above both William Lovitt (who arrived at the same time as Sisam) and Guy Albright to take the reins of the reconstituted department; he remained a major presence at the college throughout his thirty year career. Sisam was personally rather aloof, and apparently clashed with William Lovitt. In the recollections of one president of the college, the two never spoke, and later in their careers, Margaret Hansman who joined the faculty in 1941, was often collared to carry messages between the two.

Sisam was instrumental in cultivating the academic careers of many of his students - both Martha Belschner and Leonard Bristow are key examples. When the college reorganized in the early thirties into three divisions of study, Sisam was appointed chair of the Natural Science Division.

In his research, Sisam had a particular interest in algebraic surfaces which he wrote about in a contribution to the Colorado College Studies shortly after his arrival: On Non-Ruled Octic Surfaces Whose Plane Sections are Elliptic (1919). His books include:

He had a national presence and was associate editor of the Transactions of the American Mathematical Society. After retiring from the college in 1948, he moved to Washington D.C. where he died on December 4, 1964.


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