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Obituary - David Fowler

Originally published 5 May 2004


With great sadness the University reports the death of David Fowler, Emeritus Reader in the Department of Mathematics, on 13th April 2004, aged 67.

David was one of the top half dozen leading experts in the world on early Greek mathematics, notably of pre-Euclidean ratio theory.

David graduated from Cambridge after completing the Tripos in 1959 and began his academic career at the University of Manchester before moving to Warwick in 1967 as a Lecturer and manager of the Mathematics Research Centre. This was a role that he fulfilled skilfully until 1990.

Christopher Zeeman, founder of the Mathematics Institute at Warwick, explains in the Guardian “When the Nuffield Foundation gave Warwick the money to found a Mathematics Research Centre in 1967, I realised it needed a person of very special qualities to manage it, and I knew that David was that person. He chose Elaine Shiels (now Greaves Coelho) to be the Centre secretary and, during the next 20 years they welcomed more than 1,000 long-term senior visitors to the annual year-long research symposia held at Warwick. They found housing for all the visitors, solved all their problems, talked maths with them and made them happy. “

David’s colleagues hail him as one of the 20th Century's most innovative and stimulating historians of mathematics. His lucid and engaging book The Mathematics of Plato's Academy fundamentally rewrote the history of early Greek mathematics. In it he argued that the discovery of incommensurability did not provoke the crisis that led to the de-arithmetised tradition embodied by Euclid's Elements. Rather, he claimed, the Elements were the culmination of a mathematical culture that was deeply engaged with ideas of ratio and proportion.

The idea of the dialogue between Socrates and slaveboy, teacher and student, ran deep not only in his historical writing but also in his undergraduate mathematics teaching at the University.

His acute powers of observation and pleasure in stimulating, thought-provoking discussion won him many friends and admirers in the history of mathematics community worldwide. He was awarded a DSc by the University of Warwick in 1997 for submission of published papers. After his retirement in 2000 he was appointed an Emeritus Reader by the University.

David was loved by all his students and colleagues, and he will be greatly missed. He is survived by his wife Denise and their children Stephan and Magali.

Guardian Obituary - http://www.guardian.co.uk/obituaries/story/0,3604,1208242,00.html