History of the UMI

The UMI was created after the International Research Council’s plea (Brussels, July 1919) for the establishment of national scientific committees. At the time, Italy was represented by the Accademia dei Lincei and in particular by Vito Volterra, who proposed, together with a group of mathematicians including Luigi Bianchi, Pietro Burgatti, Roberto Marcolongo, Carlo Somigliana and Giovanni Vacca, the constitution of the Unione Matematica Italiana (see the special edition of the BUMI 1st of July 1922, p. 1, Archivio Storico UMI, Documenti riguardanti la costituzione dell’ Unione Matematica Italiana) and he proposed a first program outline. In such program, one of the aims of the UMI was to encourage pure science, the coming together of pure mathematics and the other sciences, the guidance and progress of teaching, and the organization, preparation and participation to national and international conferences. The Accademia dei Lincei happily welcomed the proposal and on the 18th of March 1921 Volterra informed a famous mathematician from the University of Bologna, Salvatore Pincherle, that he had been chosen as President:

[translation of part of Volterra’s letter to Pincherle:
“I am proud to communicate to you that the “Unione Matematica Italiana” has been constituted, and that it is part of the International Mathematical Union, that together with other Scientific Unions, constitutes the “Conseil International de Recherches“. I am also pleased to add that the Presidency of the “Unione Matematica Italiana” has been assigned to you; and you are expected to nominate a Secretary of the Union; once you have chosen, you should please communicate your nominee to prof. Emilio Picard, President of the “Conseil International”. (Archivio Storico UMI,Corrispondenza Volterra-Pincherle)]

The official origin of the UMI dates back to March 31, 1922 when Pincherle, sent to all Italian mathematicians a letter of presentation of the program of the Association which, in its intentions, should have been a true professional association, with an autonomous structure not unlike that of the existing international associations. In June of 1922 the members were already 152. Since then members of the UMI have been gradually increasing up to about 2200, currently.

In July of the same year the first issue of what would become the Bollettino dell’Unione Matematica Italiana was published. The Statute was approved by the UMI on December 7th, 1922, and the following year Pincherle managed to obtain the constitution of a charitable foundation.

The first head office of the UMI was Bologna and it has remained so until now.

This is how UMI began its activities, but its take-off took place together with the emergence of fascism, which marked its first decades of life. The first act of international importance was the organization, in Bologna, of the International Congress of Mathematicians, in 1928. On that occasion Pincherle, who was also President of the International Mathematical Union, spent much time and energy to reaffirm the international nature of science (as evidenced by the rich correspondence preserved in the historical archive of the UMI):

[translation of part of the proceedings of the International Congress of Mathematicians:
“The Presidency of the Italian math Union, which fell the heavy task of preparation of the Congress, decided to resume the pre-war tradition of International Congresses, avoiding any exclusion depending from political reasons.” (Atti del Congresso Internazionale dei Matematici, Bologna 3-10 settembre 1928, Bologna Zanichelli, I vol, 1929, pp. 5-6)]

His project, although at first politically opposed by various countries, was successful: the mathematicians who participanted were 826, from 36 countries, including Germany, without any restrictions.

Since then, the UMI has expanded its activities, through various channels among which we remember the following:

  • The 19 Congresses, from the first held in Florence on 1-3 April 1937, which was attended by more than 200 mathematicians (the six general conferences were held by Francesco Severi (2), Leonida Tonelli, Giuseppe Scorza, Henry Simon and Schuster and Tullio Levi Civita), until the last congress in 2011, held in Bologna on September 12-17, 2011;
  • the creation in 1954 of the CIME (Centro Internazionale Matematico Estivo), a summer school of higher mathematics appreciated internationally;
  • the establishment in 1954 of the Sottocommissione italiana per l’Insegnamento della Matematica with Guido Ascoli as the first president, this later became the Commissione Italiana per l’Insegnamento della matematica (CIIM), permanent committee of the UMI which has as its task to examine the problems concerning teaching mathematics in Italy, at all levels, including the studies and experiences abroad and to suggest possible solutions;
  • the work of its presidents that, to date, have been 15: Salvatore Pincherle Berzolari Louis , Henry Simon and Schuster, John Samson, Alessandro Terracini , John Ricci, Guido Stampacchia , Enrico Magenes , Carlo Pucci , Vinicio Villani, Alessandro Figa Talamanca, Alberto Conte , Carlo Sbordone , Franco Brezzi , and the current president Ciro Ciliberto;
  • the establishment of Awards for young mathematicians and for specific areas of research, among these are the Awards in commemoration of the mathematicians Joseph Bartolozzi , Renato Caccioppoli , Franco Tricerri , Calogero Losers, Gaetano Fichera and Ennio De Giorgi;
  • the organization of Joint Meetings with other scientific Societies in order to foster international contacts since 2002 (2002 USA, in Pisa, 2006 France, in Italy, 2007 Germany, in Perugia);
  •  the organization of competitions for the selection and choice of the Italian representative to the International Olympics of Mathematics from 1997;
  • the creation of high-level scientific book series (Lecture Notes in Mathematics from 2005-2006) and for the training of teachers (Convergences 2006);
  •  the creation in 1998 of a magazine of high mathematical disclosure La matematica nella Società e nella Cultura, first directed by Carlo Pucci, with the aim of disseminating mathematical knowledge;
  •  the publication of the Opere dei grandi matematici Italiani from 1951-1952 with the publication of the writings of Felice Casorati;
  • The project Biblioteca Digitale di Matematica in collaboration with the SIMAI from 2010.

The breadth of activities currently carried out by the UMI can be seen from the extent of its website http://umi.dm.unibo.it/

Bibliographic References

  • Sansone, G. 1974, Le attività dell’Unione Matematica Italiana nel primo cinquantennio della sua fondazione, Bollettino UMI, Serie IV, Suppl. fasc. 2, pp. 7-43.
  • Pucci, C. 1986, “L’Unione Matematica Italiana dal 1922 al 1944: documenti e riflessioni, in Symposia mathematica (ed. INDAM), vol. 27, pp. 187-212.
  • Nastasi, P. 1998, “Il contesto istituzionale”, in S. Di Sieno, A. Guerraggio and P. Nastasi (eds.), La Matematica italiana dopo l’Unità. Gli anni tra le due guerre mondiali, Marcos y Marcos, Milano, pp. 817-943.
  • Magenes, E. 1998, Una testimonianza sul III Congresso dell’U.M.I. Pisa, 23-26 settembre 1948, La matematica nella Società e nella Cultura Bollettino U. M. I. (8) 1-A, pp. 1-6
  • Magenes, E. 1998, L’U.M.I. nel primo dopo-guerra (1945-1951), La matematica nella Società e nella Cultura Bollettino U. M. I. (8) 1-A, pp. 145-152.
  • Lehto, O. 1998, Mathematics Without Borders. A History of the International Mathematical Union, Springer, New York.
  • Guerraggio, A., Nastasi, P. 2005, Matematica in camicia nera, Bruno Mondadori, Milano, 2005, Capitolo 3.