A.N. Whitehead in the Sherborne School 1st XV, 1878

A.N. Whitehead in the Sherborne School 1st XV, 1878

The 15th February is the 156th anniversary of the birth of the mathematician and philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947).

Whitehead attended Sherborne School (School House) from September 1875 to July 1880.  During his time at Sherborne he was Head of the School and a member of the 1st XV and 1st XI.  He was awarded the Digby Prize for Mathematics and Science in 1877, 1878 and 1879 and the Mathematics Medal in 1878, 1879 and 1880.  Whitehead then proceeded to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was a scholar, and in the mathematical tripos of 1883 he was bracketed fourth wrangler.  In 1884 he was elected a Fellow of Trinity College.

In 1891, Whitehead’s sister, Shirley Maria Whitehead (1858-1943), married Whitehead’s former Sherborne School mathematics master, the Rev. John Blanch (1842-1907).  In 1898, Whitehead presented Blanch with a copy of his Treatise on Universal Algebra with Applications, inscribed ‘John Blanch from his pupil The Author, Feb.21.1898’.

During his lifetime, Whitehead was acknowledged as one of the greatest philosophers of his age and received many distinctions.  His Treatise on Universal Algebra, with Applications (1898) extended Boolean symbolic logic and led to his election as Fellow of the Royal Society in 1903.  He collaborated with Bertrand Russell on Principia Mathematica (1910-1913) and from 1914 to 1924 held the post of Professor of Applied Mathematics at Imperial College.  From 1924 until his retirement in 1937 Whitehead held a professorship in the department of philosophy of Harvard University.  In 1925 he delivered the Lowell Lectures, later published as Science and the Modern World and borrowed by fellow Old Shirburnian Alan Turing from the Sherborne School library in 1929 (Alan Turing’s reading at Sherborne School).

In 1922, Whitehead was the first recipient of the James Scott prize of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and in 1925 he received the Sylvester medal of the Royal Society.  In 1930 he was awarded the Butler medal of Columbia University and in 1931 he was made a Fellow of the British Academy.  In 1945 he was appointed to the Order of Merit.

Alfred North Whitehead died at Cambridge, Massachusetts, on 30 December 1947.  He was cremated and his ashes scattered at Harvard Memorial Church.

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Posted 15 February 2017 by Sherborne School Archives.