David Hilbert’s Grundlagen der Geometrie is a rare example of a historical mathematics text that is still profitably read today and continues to inspire research in mathematics, computer science, and philosophy.
The effort of publishing an English translation of Hilbert in 1902 involved a diverse swath of the American mathematical community. Edgar Jerome Townsend completed a first draft of his authorized translation in a few weeks, but the process of creating a successful publication involved negotiations, corrections, and attention to detail that continued well after the first edition appeared in print. Meanwhile, published and private texts that circulated around the English edition contained conflicting conclusions with respect to the quality of the translation, the book’s audience, and the parameters of a scholarly critique. This talk sheds light on American mathematics at a pivotal time in its history and raises questions about the language and form of mathematical texts that continue to be relevant today.