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George Green (1793--1841)---Historical sketch

It is remarkable that the name of a completely self-educated son of a baker would become known to every student of calculus, but George Green did exactly that. He was born in 1793---the exact date is unknown, but it was probably in July---in the small hamlet of Sneinton (pronounced Snenton), which is not far from Sherwood Forest with its fictional characters Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham.

When George was eight years old, he began his schooling at an expensive private institution in Nottingham, which lasted but a year, and that calendar year was the entirety of his formal education until he was 40 years old. However, since it was an exceedingly good school, he learned a lot and became extremely attracted to mathematics. After leaving the private school, he worked in his father's bakery and mill while pursuing the study of higher mathematics on his own.

It is not clear how George Green could have become acquainted with advanced mathematics topics or how he was able to learn so much mathematics without instruction, but there is a possibility that he had become acquainted with a person who had studied mathematics at Cambridge and was the headmaster of a school in Nottingham. Green also joined the Nottingham Subscription Library, which allowed him to read the Transactions of the Royal Society of London, thus making available to him the latest mathematical advances from throughout the world. He studied mathematics alone in a section of the mill where he worked. In spite of the obvious drawbacks of learning on one's own, Green published in 1828 a monumental piece of research entitled An Essay on the Application of Mathematical Analysis to the Theories of Electricity and Magnetism.

In 1833, Green---now 40 years old---entered Cambridge University as an undergraduate. He sent two papers on electricity to the Cambridge Philosophical Society, one of which was published in 1833 and the next in 1834. Then in 1836, a paper of his on hydrodynamics was published by the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He had little difficulty with his studies and graduated near the top of his class in 1837, but he stayed at Cambridge to continue with his own mathematics studies, publishing papers on the physics of light and sound.

In 1840, Green returned to Nottingham in poor health, and he died in May of 1841, not yet 48 years of age.


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Green's theorem

Historical sketch: George Stokes

Historical sketches


Copyright © 2006 Darel Hardy, Fred Richman, Carol Walker, Robert Wisner. All rights reserved. Except upon the express prior permission in writing, from the authors, no part of this work may be reproduced, transcribed, stored electronically, or transmitted in any form by any method.

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