“Mathematics knows no races” - a political talk which David Hilbert planned for the ICM in Bologna 1928

Mathematics: place, production and publication, 1730-1940

02 February 17:00 - 18:00

Reinhard Siegmund-Schultze - University of Agder

In many historical accounts, going back to Constance Reid´s biography of David Hilbert (1970), reference is made to a political speech allegedly given by Hilbert at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Bologna 1928, which culminated in the words "Mathematics knows no races". We explain against the background of World War II, in particular the so-called boycott of German science, why Hilbert was concerned about the negative impact of political developments on international mathematical communication. We describe Hilbert´s role in the normalization of international relations in spite of additional problems produced by his conflict with Brouwer over the foundations of mathematics. While there does exist a manuscript of Hilbert´s political speech planned for Bologna, we argue that the talk was probably never given. We come up with some reasons for this cancellation, which mainly lie in the incompleteness of the manuscript and the state of Hilbert´s health at the time in September 1928.
June Barrow-Green
The Open University
Jeremy Gray,
The Open University
Reinhard Siegmund-Schultze
University of Agder


June Barrow-Green


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