The Needham / Mahler Collection of Chinese Texts (some ANU mathematics history)

There is a little known collection of a couple of hundred Chinese Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry texts in two glass cabinets on the top floor of the Hancock Library, half way down the southern side. The collection was donated by Kurt Mahler, who was at the ANU from 1963 to 1978, and is known as the Joseph Needham collection.   See .

Funding for the cabinets and the collection was from money earned by Mahler in his travels.  At the time such money had to be turned over to the ANU.  However, one could indicate how it was to be spent.

Needham was the pre-eminent western sinologist of the 20th century.  A copy of his 28 volume opus Science and Civilisation in China is held in the Menzies library.  Both he and Mahler were fellows of the Royal Society, and there was a considerable amount of correspondence [Janus: Mahler, Kurt (1903-1988) mathematician] between the two concerning Volume 3 (Chinese mathematics) of Needham's opus.

Mahler was fluent in Mandarin and wrote at least one paper in Chinese, later translated into English.  At Ohio State University Mahler overheard some graduate students complaining about the requirement of being able to read mathematics in two foreign languages. Mahler remarked that they should really be including Chinese as one of these.  On being asked who would teach such a course, he volunteered to do so.  The course notes were his paper "On the generating functions of integers with a missing digit" in Chinese (
上海 : 中國科學社 --- Shanghai: Chinese Scientific Society 29 (1947),  265-267;  Menzies China serial Q4.G49) and in English (J. Indian Math. Soc. (N.S.) Part A. 15, (1951), 33-40), and a largely hand written booklet (PL1120.M3.M34, ANU Mitchell repository) with character/word romanization and translation of the Chinese paper, and some additional comments on pronunciation and grammar.   (The Chinese paper is written in traditional characters and the romanization is the Wade-Giles system with accents, not Pinyin.)   There is also an AMS Chinese-English Glossary of the Mathematical Sciences (JNC QA5.D4 1964) by John DeFrancis, but it was written in 1964 and also uses traditional characters. (Laci Kovacs)