Humbert, Pierre

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Humbert, Pierre

(b. Paris, France, 13 June 1891; d. Montpellier, France, 17 Noveber 1953)

mathematics, history of science.

Humbert was the son of the mathematician Georges Humbert and, like his father, attended the École Polytechnique, entering in 1910. He soon directed himself to scientific research and from 1913 to 1914 he was a member of the research class of the University of Edinburgh. The scientific and philosophical conceptions of Edmund Whittaker, the director of the class, were in accord with his own inclinations and made a deep impression on him throughout his career. Humbert’s health was delicate and during World War I he was removed from combat after being wounded. He earned his doctorate i mathematics in 1918 and then began his academic career, which he spent almost entirely in the Faculty of Science at Montpellier, but which consumed only a portion of his energies.

Humberet combined his father’s mathematical ability with the temperament of a humanist. He demonstrated a highly refined sensitivity to culture, devoting attention to literature and music as well as to science. Moreover, he was unsatisfied with the simple juxtaposition of knowledge and religious faith. A talented lecturer, he traveled a good deal in France and aboard. He also possessed remarkable ability for organization, which he displayed mainly in the French Association for the Advancement of Sciences and in the Joseph Lotte Association (a society of Catholic public school teachers).

The multiplicity of subjects in which Humbert was interested, and about which he contributed stimulating articles in the most diverse periodicals, is characteristic of his highly personal vocation: to promote the awakening of the intellect. In pursuit of this goal he was wiling to sacrifice a certain intellectual rigor in the interest of his wide-ranging curiosity. Thus Humbert’s scientific work provides no definitive advances, although it remains a valuable reference source.

In the field of mathematics, Humbert, faithful to Whittaker, directed his efforts cheifly toward the development of symbolic calculus. He also began to undertake scholars research in the history of science, specializing in the study of seventeenth-century astronomy. He was partially influenced in this choice by his father-in-law, the astronomer Henri Andoyer. His articles on the Provençal school, whose members included Peiresc and Gassendi, revealed the resources held by the archives in Aix, Carpentras, Digne, and other localities in the south of France.

Beyond these two major areas, Humbert should be remembered for his other writings, numerous and highly varied, that remain capable of inspiring new investigations.


I. Original Works. Humbert’s works in mathematics include Sur les surfaces de Poincaré (Paris, 1918), doctrol thesis; Introduction à l’étude des finctions elliptiques (Paris, 1922); “Fonctions de Lamé et fonctions de Mathieu,” Mémorial des sceience mathmatiques, no. 10 (1926); “Le calcul symbolique, “Actualités, sceientifiques, no, 147 (1934); “Potentiels et prépotentiels,” Cahiers scientifiques, no. 15 (1936); “Le calcul symbolique et ses applications à la physique mathématiwue,” Mémorial des science mathématiques, no. 105 (1947), rev. and enl. in a sep. pub. (Paris, 1965); Formulaire pour le calcul symbolique (Paris, 1950), written with N. W. McLachlan; and Supplément au formulaire pour le calcul symbolique (Paris, 1952), also written with McLachlan and L. Poli.

For Humbert’s publications in the history of astronomy and mathematics, see “Histores des mathématiques, de la mécanique et de l’astronomie,” in Gabriel Hanotaux, ed., Histoire de la nation française, tome XIV, vol. 1 (Paris, 1924), written with Henri Andoyer; Pierre Duhem (Paris, 1932); Un amateur: Peiresc (1580–1637) (Paris, 1933); “L’oeiuvre astrnomoque de Gassendi,” in Actualités scientiquest, no. 378 (1936); De Mercurs à Pluton, planétes et satellites (Paris, 1937); “Histoire des découvertes astronomiques,” in Reuve des jeunes, no. 16 (1948); Blaise Pascal, cet effrayant génie (Paris, 1947); and “Les mathématiques de la Renaissance à la fin du XVIIIe siècle,” in Maurice Daumas, ed., Histoire de la science (Paris, 1957). 537–688.

On his contrbution to the philospphy of science, see Philosphers et savents (Pairs, 1953); and Edmund Whitaker, Le commencement et la fin du monds, suivi de hasard. libre arbitre et nécessité dans la conception scientifique de l’univers (Paris, 1953), translated from English by Humbert.

Articles by Humbert include “Les astronomes francais de 1610 à 1667. Étude d’ensemble et répertoire alphabétique,” in Mémoires de la Société d’études scientifiques de Draguignan,63 (1942); “Les erreurs astronomiques en littérature”; “La mesure de la méridienne de France,” in Mémoires de l’Académie des sciences et lettres de Montpellier,20 (1924); 25 (1930); 27 (1932); “Spongia solis,” in Annales de l’université de Montpellier, 1 (1943); “Clude Mydorge (1585–1647),” ibid., 3 (1945); “La première carte de la lune,” in Revue des questions scientifiques, 108 (1931); “Le baptême des satellites de Jupiter,” ibid., 117 (1940); and “L’observation des halos,” in Atti dell’ Accademia pontificia dei Nuovi Lincei (1931).

Humbert wrote many other articles and memoirs which may be found in Archives internationales d’histoire des sciences, and Revue d’histoire des sciences et de leurs applications, two journals on which he collaborated.

II. Secondary Literature. For information on Humbert, see P. Sergescu, “Notice sur Pierre Humbert,” in Archives internationales d’histoire des sciences, 7 , no. 27 (1954), 181–183; B. Rochot, “Notice sur Pierre Humbert,” in Revue d’histoire des sciences, 7 no. 1, 79–80; and Jacques Devisme, Sur l’équation de M. Pierre Humbert (Paris–Toulouse, 1933), doctoral thesis.

Pierre Costabel

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