My Autobiography: Science as Passion.
By Else Hoyrup
I am a Danish scientist, born in 1945. My life has been with its ups and downs, but nevertheless it has been a fulfilling life because of my social life and my research.
I started my adult life by getting a MSc in mathematics in 1969, with specialty in algebraic topology, which was a hot topic in those days. I later wrote an article On Torus Maps and Almost Periodic Movements (in English), which was published in 1972. Afterwards, I changed my course to history, sociology, psychology – but in relation to mathematics. And women’ studies, also in special relationship to mathematics. I wrote two books together with my first husband: Mathematics in Society: History, Education, and Ideology (in Danish) from 1973 and Women: Work and Intellectual Development (in Danish) from 1974. We were both inspired by the movements of the 60ies and 70ies, my husband especially by the political movement, and I especially by the feminist movement. The feminist movement was felt very exciting and refreshing to many women and gave women a new angle to both life and research, a connection that I am afraid is getting a little lost now by today’s demands on academia.
The Danish professor of history and gender history, Bente Rosenbeck, has just published a book Does Science have Gender: Women in Research (in Danish). She sent me a copy of the book with the dedication to me: To a True Pioneer. This made me very happy, of course.
Bibliographies and International Contacts
Until 1977, I had scholarships at the Mathematics Institute at Copenhagen University and at Roskilde University. After that, I got a job as research librarian in mathematics, physics, and history of science at Roskilde University Library and therefore I got a degree in librarianship. This new job gave me the possibility to specialize in bibliography. I wrote several bibliographies, some about mathematics and history of science, some about women in the history of science, my new specialty. The bibliographies I wrote about women were in English: Women and Mathematics, Science, and Engineering: A Bibliography, 1978 and Women of Science, Technology, and Medicine: A Bibliography, 1987. Quite unexpectedly my work with bibliographies also became a work of love, and of course my bibliographic work about women was especially a work of love.
My bibliographic work gave me many international contacts, and I was invited to two international conferences, one about the history of women in science in Veszprem in Hungary in 1983. Here I was appointed Vice President (for bibliography) of The Commission on the History of Women in Science, Technology, and Medicine, which is a subdivision of IUHPS=The International Union of the History and Philosophy of Science, an affiliate of UNESCO. The other international conference, I participated in in those days, was the International Congress of History of Science in Berkeley in 1985. How I loved to work with all these things and with other scholars!
In the 1990s I inherited some money from my parents. This gave me the possibility to donate money for a Danish prize in the field of gender studies, called the KRAKA-prize after a clever and smart woman in the old Nordic mythology. The prize was first awarded in 1999.
Retirement and Russian Studies
I retired early from the labor market and instead I continued my work with the history of science and history of women in science. I also studied Russian for many years, which was also a pleasure to me, because I have always had a passion for languages too. As a matter of fact, my motive with the Russian studies was to be able to read Sofya Kovalevskaya in Russian and that I did later with great pleasure. I used her story for my BA degree in Russian, lectured about her and wrote an article about her in Danish, Sofya Kovalevskaya: The First Professional Female Mathematician in the World, in 2004.
After the death of my second husband in 2004, I have a new partner. His passion for the moment is gears, especially the geometric form of gears that Euler found in the 1700s. But we have also had a close collaboration about a website about the history of physics and mathematics (in Danish). The new possibilities, which have opened up after the invention of the Internet and e-mails are fantastic! My partner does the formula stuff and the computer animations. As I have changed profile to history and biography, I do these things in our collaboration.
I have had two specialties in this work on the website: Newton’s life and work (and his psyche) and his priority dispute with Leibniz about the invention of the calculus. My other specialty has been the life and work of early women in the history of mathematics and physics. There were not many of them before the opening of the universities in the 1870s to women. And in our work with the website, we have not yet even reached the year 1800. An especially interesting early woman scholar is Sophie Brahe (1556 or 1559 to 1643). She was the clever little sister and astronomical assistant to Tycho Brahe. I have written about her in English on the website, you are visiting right now GGSTEM=Grandma Got STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). My article appeared July, 22 2013 and you can read it here.
My work on Newton was able to be published, both on our website and in a psychiatric newsletter, but only in Danish. The article in the psychiatric newsletter came in 2011 and is called: Newton’s Crisis. It tells the story of a little known fact: Newton suffered a severe mental breakdown in 1693. His masterpiece, Principia, was published in 1687. I have tried to analyze some possible reasons for the breakdown: Loss of creativity, overwork and an unhealthy life style, among other things. After he recovered, his personality changed: From an almost autistic scientist at the University of Cambridge to a man, who enjoyed having power over others in his London years, where he had administrative top positions.
My own studies and my work have always been very important to my cheerfulness, even though my life also has had its share of downs.