Notices of the American Mathematical Society | 2019

$Celebratio mathematica$: An Interview with Karen Uhlenbeck and Three New Volumes on Women Mathematicians



The story of how Uhlenbeck became a mathematician is traced with a nuance that builds on Claudia Henrion’s earlier account in Women in Mathematics: The Addition of Difference.1 One detail that emerges clearly is the significance of Uhlenbeck’s mother’s social circle. Carolyn Keskulla was a painter, and Uhlenbeck remembers vividly as a girl that her mother’s painter friends and artistic interests brought her into contact with “a lot of people who did not live normal, middle-class lives.” The liveliness and eccentricity of this crowd made a lasting impression. Moreover, like her own mother (Uhlenbeck’s grandmother), Carolyn was a strong, intelligent, active woman, so the value for intellectual endeavor and the uses of the imagination were early and firmly established in the family circle. Jackson also explores the relevance of talent, and frames it instructively in the context of opportunities afforded by education: high school, first, and then a high-quality public university education. While Uhlenbeck’s family background emphasized intellectual attainment, her high school gave her no specific encouragement vis-à-vis mathematics. The first seeds of mathematical inspiration were sown at university. The following excerpt from Jackson s article (see pull quote, facing page) highlights that revelatory moment, which occurred during Uhlenbeck’s time as an undergraduate. Mathematical Sciences Publishers ( is pleased to announce the publication of three new volumes devoted to the careers of Karen Uhlenbeck, Joan Birman, and Dusa McDuff as part of its electronic archive of mathematicians of note, Celebratio Mathematica. The work was supported with funding from the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute ( and spearheads an intensive project now underway to develop the archive’s holdings on the careers and accomplishments of women mathematicians. The support made it possible to undertake a number of special projects for these volumes, one of which we highlight here: a new interview with Karen Uhlenbeck by Allyn Jackson (the latter needing no introduction to readers of the Notices). Interviews like this are especially valuable to students of mathematics for whom knowledge about the careers of other women scientists can be powerfully reinforcing. In publishing them, we aim to inspire student readers especially by showing them that there are diverse paths to a career in the sciences. What leads women to mathematics is perhaps not so different in essence from what makes men choose math, but the social and institutional realities of women’s careers have been different enough from those of men to warrant thoughtful attention. This fact is certainly one of the subjects of the interview. Celebratio Mathematica: An Interview with Karen Uhlenbeck and Three New Volumes on Women Mathematicians

Volume 66
Pages 315-329
DOI 10.1090/NOTI1807
Language English
Journal Notices of the American Mathematical Society

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