Category Archives: harvard

10,000 baby names of Harvard

My 20th Harvard reunion book is in hand, offering a social snapshot of a certain educationally (and mostly financially) elite slice of the US population.

Here is what Harvard alums name their kids.  These are chosen by alphabetical order of surname from one segment of the book.  Most of these children are born between 2003 and the present.  They are grouped by family.

Molly, Danielle

Zachary, Zoe, Alex

Elias, Ella, Irena

Sawyer, Luke

Peyton, Aiden

Richard, Sonya

Grayson, Parker, Saya

Yoomi, Dae-il

Io, Pico, Daphne

Lucine, Mayri

Matthew, Christopher

Richard, Annalise, Ryan

Jackson

Christopher, Sarah, Zachary, Claire

Shaiann, Zaccary

Alexandra, Victoria, Arianna, Madeline

Samara

Grace, Luke, Anna

William, Cecilia, Maya

Bode, Tyler

Daniel, Catherine

Alex, Gretchen

Nathan, Spencer, Benjamin

Ezekiel, Jesse

Matthew, Lauren, Ava, Nathan

Samuel, Katherine, Peter, Sophia

Ameri, Charles

Sebastian

Andrew, Zachary, Nathan

Alexander, Gabriella

Liam

Andrew, Nadia

Caroline, Elizabeth

Paul, Andrew

Shania, Tell, Delia

Saxon, Beatrix

Benjamin

Nathan, Lukas, Jacob

Noah, Haydn, Ellyson

Freddie

Leonidas, Cyrus

Isabelle, Emma

Joseph, Theodore

Asha, Sophie, Tejas

Gabriela, Carlos, Sebastian

Brendan, Katherine

Rayne

James, Seeger, Arden

Helena, Freya

Alexandra, Matthew

George

If you saw these names, would you be able to guess roughly what part of the culture they were drawn from?  Are there ways in which the distribution is plainly different from “standard” US naming practice?

 

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Math bracket 2013

And here it is, the annual NCAA bracket produced by awarding each game to the school with the better math department.  Of course, these judgments are for entertainment only, and were produced by a group, so if you find any of the picks absurdly wrong, those were the ones I didn’t make.

Go Crimson!

MathBracket 2013

Update: A great first day of play for the math bracket — Harvard and Berkeley advance over higher-seeded opponents and we’re in the 55th percentile of the ESPN Challenge.

Update: Second day less good as UCLA is the first of our final four to get eliminated, and we drop into the low 30s.

Update: Bracket in disarray, with only Duke remaining from the math final four. On the bright side, the math faculty at Florida Gulf Coast University includes Eric Insko, a student of my collaborator Julianna Tymoczko, and an undergrad alum of UW-Madison. So that explains nicely why they’re doing so well.

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The life and opinions of a college class

I always thought of pre-WWII Harvard as a place that paid some lip service to educating the common man while mostly functioning as a finishing school for preppies.  But was it so?  The very interesting Life and Opinions of a College Class, which reports the results of an extensive survey offered to the Harvard Class of 1926 on the occasion of their 25th reunion in 1951, tells a more complicated story.  I learned there that:

  • Only 54% of the class had fathers with a college degree; 26% of the class had fathers who had not finished high school.
  • Only about half the class went to private high school.
  • 17% were Jews.  (But only 8% were Catholic!)
  • 29% of the class worked at an outside job during the school year to support themselves.

(But note:  in the appendix, we learn that while half the class came from public high schools, the officers and class marshalls were entirely drawn from the preps.)

Nothing here really tells us whether the families of the Harvard students had money, though the fact that 70% of those families were Republicans might offer some clue.  Certainly they were rich by 1951, with a median income almost four times the national median.  (That would amount to about $180,000 today — I wonder how that compares with the current incomes of the class of 1988?)

Already in 1951, proponents of the liberal arts were anxious about becoming antique in a world ruled by science:

Only 13 percent were sufficiently prophetic of the shape of things to come to prepare in any of the physical or human Sciences; another 10 percent chose Engineering and/or Mathematics.

But one alum stuck up for tradition:

Admitted this is an age of specialization, then a boy should go to M.I.T. and do it up brown.  If he is going to Harvard, let him get a good liberal grounding which I think will make him a better citizen, and then concentrate later when he can put his whole mind on it.  He will undoubtedly be surpassed by many of the trade school boys but he will have something they will never have and to hell with his dinner pail.

One of my favorite moments in the book is the list of responses to the question, “What is the biggest mistake you have made in life?”

The catalogue of miscellaneous major blunders includes:  ill-advised speculation in 1929; getting back into the market too soon after the crash; failure to sell short; overeating; starting to smoke; neglecting the home for business; voting for Franklin D. Roosevelt and not voting for Franklin D. Roosevelt; wasting time; taking too little part in community life; too much diversification of interests; relying too much on the advice of older people; placing too much confidence in business associates; joining the Communist party; too much sex in earlier years; buying too large a house; drinking too much; a youthful indulgence in arson; and, in one instance, misappropriation of funds.

The irrevocable change brought about by the Civil War

From the Harvard reunion book entry of Edward Learoyd Cutter ’06, a coal dealer in Boston, concerning his vacation trips to Charleston, SC:

We have been extremely fortunate in knowing a few of the old plantation families, and in having been included in some of their good times, which has given us a viewpoint that few Northerners can ever have.  When one sees and understands a little the irrevocable change brought about by the Civil War, one cannot escape the sensation of guiltiness for having been born a Yankee.

Was this a respectable view to assert in public in 1931?  If so, when it it start being respectable to talk this way (surely it took some time after the end of the war) and when did it stop?

Possibly relevant is the testimony of Cutter’s classmate, Floyd Andrews Brown, of Deposit, NY:

I am now in the my thirteenth year as clerk of the Board of Education, a matter in which I take some pride by reason of having survived the period when every other elective or appointive officer in the village, township, and school district was at least in sympathy with, if not an active member of, the Ku Klux Klan.  This domination of a community by the Klan, now happily past, is a fair measure of the benightedness of the section of rural New York in which I seem fated to spend my declining years.

Aside, directed mainly at Harvard coevals:  Whatever happened to Bridget Kerrigan?

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Barry Mazur wins the National Medal of Science

As the old joke goes, “Who’s that guy next to Mazur?”

Barack Obama, Barry Mazur

Barry Mazur, my Ph.D. advisor, was awarded the National Medal of Science last week.  It’s hard to overstate the extent to which his work and his outlook have affected the direction of number theory.  And of course my own way of doing math is substantially colored by my time studying Barry’s mathematics,  and my very good fortune of working closely with him as a student.  It seems to me that it must be transparent to anyone who talks to me that I was Barry’s student.  He taught me to see mathematics as a unified whole, he taught me that forming good questions was as important a part of progress as settling on answers, and he taught me how to say “It is what it is,” which has entered my idiolexicon as a kind of mu-like mantra.  Maybe the most important lesson I learned from him is that in mathematics it is very useful to be interested in everything.  I’m just one of 54 students Barry has advised, and I’ll bet all of us would say similar things about his influence.

Lately (on top of his continuing busy schedule of proving theorems!) Barry has been thinking very deeply about what we are doing when we think we know something.  See “What is Plausible?”, which considers the difference between gathering evidence for “all ravens are black” and gathering evidence for the Riemann hypothesis, and features guest appearances by the Cohen-Lenstra conjecture and the analogy between function fields and number fields, two of my favorite topics.  (Note to self:  “Why do we and why did we find the Cohen-Lenstra conjecture plausible?” would be a good future post.)

Via Brian Conrad, here’s a link to video of the ceremony.

I gathered a couple of reminiscences from people who worked with Barry before I knew him.

Dick Gross:

The memory of Barry’s graduate courses and seminars when I arrived at Harvard as a student in the early 70s is indelible. Barry was working through the ideas in his great paper on the Eisenstein ideal, and every talk he gave was an opening into a beautiful new world.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the next generation of number theorists came out of his overcoat.

Ken Ribet:

My real relationship with Barry began toward the end of my last year at Harvard, when I explained my thesis to him and we realized that we had many mathematical interests in common.  My thesis was about Galois representations attached to abelian varieties, and Barry’s Eisenstein ideal paper was at least partly in the same subject.  (That article covers a lot of ground!!)  I communicated with Barry quite a bit over the next few years, when I was in Princeton and in Paris.  We sent letters back and forth, and we had face-to-face discussions.  I made some tiny contributions to the Eisenstein ideal paper by pointing out to Barry a few things that he hadn’t yet come to grips with and by finding a mistake in Barry’s initial discussion of Eisenstein primes mod 2.

For me, the Eisenstein ideal article is one of the great landmark articles of all time.  It introduced a plethora of new techniques and solved a number of important problems.  One takeaway from the article for me was Barry’s insistence on studying objects just as they are, in the most delicate possible way.  Shimura would study quotients of Jacobians of modular curves by replacing them by isogenous varieties on which full rings of integers could operate.  Barry’s idea was to study the Hecke ring just as it is and not to replace it by its normalization.  What a great idea!  He also introduced the perspective of studying Hecke rings as objects of commutative algebra.  He proved (in most cases) that they’re Gorenstein, for example.  Another takeaway is that your work is not finished until you’ve sorted out every detail.  Barry wasn’t content with a result that was true outside of some finite set of primes; he insisted on going down into the exceptions to see exactly what happens there.

A central contribution of Barry’s paper was to prove that many Hecke modules that are generically of “rank N” (N= 1 or 2) are actually locally free of rank N.  One way to describe my “level-lowering” theorem is to say that, in the simplest case of representations of prime level, I prove a statement analogous to Barry’s for the one Hecke module whose local freeness he didn’t discuss.  This is the character group of the torus in the Neron reduction of the Jacobian of X_0(N) at the bad prime N.

If I’m not mistaken, Barry won two major AMS prizes for the same article — the Eisenstein article.  He won the Cole Prize when it was published and then the Steele Prize for an article of enduring value a couple of decades after it was published.  I don’t know any other example where a single article was honored by multiple AMS prizes.

 

 

 

 

 

Harvard Class of 1906, P-S

More from the 25th anniverary report.

Sad people sounded then much as they sound now.  Howard Frank Shurtleff:

“As I try to put down something vivid and revealing about my last twenty-five years, the conviction grows that the promise I gave at graduation has not been realized.  Five years of teaching in Wisconsin and Connecticut ended with my return to the locality where I was born, chiefly because it was necessary for me to be in the open, and my taking up the work of tobacco growing.  The thing has not prospered, seems destined in fact not to prosper, as we produce mostly binders for cigars, and cigarettes are now rapidly replacing cigars.  I have been writing all these years, but I have printed but little.  My friends ask me what I am waiting for.  I don’t know.  I suppose I must remain to the end a puzzle to myself and to my friends, and consider myself lucky if there are any who really wish to call themselves my friends.”

Theron Finlay Pierce died in 1930, just before the book was compiled.  The editors wrote:

“Business was a secondary consideration in his life.  His nature was affectionate and whimsical, and his real interests social and intellectual.  He was particularly fond of travel.  After leaving college he went around the world with his brother and classmate, Roy, and later made frequent trips abroad.  During the last six or seven years of his life he became deeply absorbed in psychic research.  In 1927 he retired from active business for the purpose of devoting his entire time to this subject.

From 1927 to 1929 he lived at Prides Crossing, Mass., and there entertained many of the leaders in the psychic field.  He became greatly interested in the phenomenon of the Margery mediumship.  In 1929 he visited England and succeeded in arranging the test sittings for this medium which took place that fall under the observation of the British Society for Psychical Research.  During his trip he had the pleasure of being entertained by the late Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and other distinguished members of the London Society.”

Pierce had the opportunity to retire from active business because his father was the oil baron Henry Clay Pierce, who famously battled antitrust laws as a member of the Standard Oil cartel.  As for Mina Crandon, the Margery medium, she was a sensation so widely believed in that Houdini himself made it a special mission to debunk her psychic claims.  Houdini went so far as to accuse Crandon’s husband, a surgeon, of altering Crandon’s body to afford her hiding places on her person for the “ectoplasm” she produced in her seances.

Once again, I find myself wondering — where’s the historical costume drama about this story?  Dissipated oil heir, controversial psychic (who often worked nude), Arthur Conan Doyle, Houdini

Anyway, here’s Otto Henry Seiffert:

“Cooking is also my accomplishment.  I have never issued any publications but if I do, it will be a cook book, which I confidently expect will be translated into all the foreign languages, including Hindustani.  I have laid down the violin forever in favor of the saucepan, which I find in my own particular circle of low-brow acquaintances is much the more popular instrument.  I never lack for an audience and am generous about encores.  I can build up an architectural sauce that makes flounder or whitefish better than the choicest sole a chef ever dreamed of.  They say my Princeton orange cake is a song without words, and my scallops smothered in spaghetti an impromptu that should bring me a niche three feet wide in the Hall of Fame.

I can also mix a cocktail.”

Who knew Smoove B was alive in 1931?

 

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Startup culture, VC culture, and Mazurblogging

Those of us outside Silicon Valley tend to think of it as a single entity — but venture capitalists and developers are not the same people and don’t have the same goals.  I learned about this from David Carlton’s blog post.  Cathy O’Neil reposted it this morning.  It’s kind of cool that the three of us, who started grad school together and worked with Barry Mazur, are all actively blogging!  We just need to get Matt Emerton in on it and then we’ll have the complete set.  Maybe we could even launch a new blogging platform and call it mazr.  You want startup culture, I’ll give you startup culture!

 

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Work hard, play hard

A phrase that viscerally annoys me is older than I thought.  Harold Field Kellogg, Harvard ’06, writes:  “We students worked hard and played hard in Paris, but had time to travel through most of the countries of Europe, sketching and painting.”

Google suggests that “Work hard, play hard,” is even earlier, and was said to be a favorite slogan of Theodore Roosevelt.

The Harvard Class of 1906

I recently had to turn in my 20th reunion writeup for my upcoming Harvard Reunion, and that spurred me to pick up and go through the 25th reunion book of the class of 1906, one of a few Harvard redbooks I have in the house.  I’ve just looked at letters G-K so far.

  • William Eugene Hartwell writes “Nineteen hundred and thirty is not the year in which to ask a business man to write, in light mood, the history of twenty-five years.”  But this is the only person I found who referred, even obliquely, to the stock market crash.  How can it be?  It turns out that it wasn’t really clear in 1930 that there was going to be a Great Depression.  The stock market had recouped a great deal of its losses — the real plunge of the market was still ahead.  As far as economic history goes, the class of 1906 was much more concerned about industrial relations, strikes, and riots than about an impending depression.
  • Robert Lee Hale:  “I have no “war record.”  This causes me neither shame nor pride.  I never was carried very far on the mob feeling which prevailed, and trust that in any future war I may be still more skeptical of official myths, and that many others will be so too.”  Hale, an economics professor at Columbia, goes on to express his belief that Sacco and Vanzetti’s guilt had not been proved, but speculates that his classmates won’t agree on this point.  “That is perhaps why, though I know Harvard has many virtues, I have lost all emotional love for it as an institution.”
  • Speaking of academics:  Arthur Holcombe was chair of the Harvard government department by 1930, the author of six books, and seems somewhat apologetic about the whole thing.  “I did not really succeed in leaving, but have been in Harvard, for better for worse, ever since…. I have generally been not far from the Yard, and, if I am permitted to have another twenty-five years, I hope to learn something about the art of life… I like my job, though it is not what I dreamed of doing twenty-five years ago, and I like my classmates’ sons.  They and their classmates are making a new Harvard, even more promising than the old.”
  • Robert Fellows Gowen reports bringing to Harvard “the first radio set seen in that institution,” in 1903.
  • Many modern-sounding sentiments, like this from Charles Francis Hovey:  “On account of the social changes in the last decade, the speed of modern life, the many demands on the time and purse of the individual, art and culture have been somewhat at a disadvantage.  In this scientific age of the machine, with everything so highly commercialized and the many temptations, there appears to be a greater need than ever before for the development of character.”
  • Few class members fought in the war (most of the class was already in its mid-30s when the US entered.)  Most play golf.  Lots of lawyers.  Lots of Masons.  It is very common for the alumni to assert the undistinguishedness of their lives and achievements.  Many mention the fascination of California and no small number have actually moved there.  One recounts a joke which must have been popular at the time:  “I shall, however, stop here and not act as did the gentleman at the funeral who, when the ceremonies were over, rose to his feet and said, “Now may I speak a few words about California.””
  • Clifford Millburn Holland was in the class of 1906.  Know who he was?  Does it help if I tell you he was the chief engineer on what, before his death, was to be known as the Hudson River Vehicular Tunnel?  Holland started working on the tunnel in 1919, and in 1924 was admitted to the Battle Creek Sanitarium (the one run by the Kellogg brothers) with what sounds like a nervous breakdown.  On October 27, he died there, of a heart attack, just two days before the New York tunnelers broke through to meet the New Jerseyans.  How can there not have already been a historical novel based on this story?

 

 

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Some of my best friends are cross-dressing kingmakers

Steve Burt profiled in the New York Times Magazine.

I thought the profile was a little too heavy on other people talking about Steve and too light on Steve talking about Steve, so here’s Steve’s long and in part autobiographical essay about Game Theory (the band, not the branch of math) which is subtitled, I’m guessing by Steve himself, “An awkward essay about a deeply ambivalent band with a very unpromising name, including notes on nerd camp, fear of sex, Northern California area codes, and autobiographical digressions, with a book review near the end.”  If you want to read something more directly about poetry, here’s Steve’s essay “Close Calls With Nonsense” from The Believer, which lays out, to the extent that it can be laid out, the state of American poetry as it looks from one vantage.

 

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