History of the Northeast Section
Dan Edwin Christie (1915-1975)
Dan E. Christie, for whom the Northeastern Section's Christie Lecture is named, was a slight modest man.
There was not an ounce of pretense in Dan's makeup. He was amicable, not familiar; conversable, not effusive; companionable, not intrusive. He was genuinely friendly, full of concern for the welfare of his associates.
Because of his quiet, gentlemanly nature, it was easy for those who knew him to forget just how well known he was in the mathematics community.
Dan Christie was everywhere dense among mathematicians.
A founding father of the Northeastern Section, Dan served as its chairman and twice as its representative on the board of governors. His MAA activities were not confined to the Northeast, however. In 1963 he was appointed to the MAA Committee on the Undergraduate Program in Mathematics, in 1965 to the Committee on an Internship in Mathematics Education, and in 1972 to the Committee on Assistance to developing Colleges. He also served on several other MAA panels and committees during his 32 years of MAA membership.
A native of Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, Dan graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Bowdoin College in the Class of 1937. During the 1937-38 academic year, he was a Henry Fellow at St. John's College of Cambridge University. After receiving his A.M. and Ph.D. degrees from Princeton, he returned to Bowdoin in 1942 as an instructor in Physics and Mathematics, and he remained at Bowdoin throughout his entire career. During World War II, he was a civilian lecturer in the Army Air Force basic pre-meteorological program and the Naval Officers pre-radar school at Bowdoin. He worked up through the academic ranks to hold the chair of Wing Professorship of Mathematics and he was Chairman of the Department from 1964 to 1972.
Under Dan's leadership in the early 1960's, Bowdoin adopted a unique plan designed to select as new members of the mathematics faculty, teachers with research interests concentrated in a particular area, rather than employing people representing a cross-section of the research specialties. As a result, Bowdoin developed as large a group of specialists in algebra as would be found in many universities. This plan greatly expanded the department's algebraic research capability and its ability to offer young, well-trained mathematicians career opportunities to match those in large universities.
From 1965 to 1969 Dan was the director of four Academic Year Institutes (AYI) at Bowdoin. The AYI program, supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), enabled selected secondary school teachers to earn A.M. degrees in mathematics by completing ac year of in-residence studies and attending courses at a NSF summer institute.
Dan was involved in efforts to promote mathematical research, too. He investigated forms and levels of support for research in mathematics as a member of the National Academy of Sciences- National Research Council's Committee on Support of Research in the Mathematical Sciences (COSRIMS). He was also Director of Bowdoin's Advanced Science Seminars, a series of NSF summer programs designed to stimulate postgraduate education and research in mathematics, from 1965 to 1971.
I think Dan Christie's most striking contribution was the sequence of Advanced Science Seminars in Algebra, which he created single-handed. There have been no other instructional institutes in mathematics that have compared in the high level of achievement and excitement. Research mathematicians still refer to the Bowdoin Advanced Science Seminars in Algebra as a standard against which any other summer program is to be measured. These seminars had their origin in Dan Christie's imagination and uncommon good sense; they were maintained through his energy and devotion.
Dan's interests were not confined to research mathematicians, however.
Dan Christie believed so strongly that no one could claim to be a literate person unless he has a sense of what mathematics is; not merely that he should know a bit of algebra and a bit of geometry, but that he should be aware of what living mathematicians are doing just as he should be aware of what living poets are writing, and what living philosophers are saying. It was this basic belief that lead Dan to imagine, create and implement a new course designed particularly for the non-specialist, designed to show young people that in their world mathematics must play a part.
When Dan died in 1975, the MAA Board of Governors passed a resolution which included the following statement :
"Dan Christie's legacy to mathematics is reflected from many facets - his intellect, his integrity, the students and colleagues whom he inspired, the summer institutes and seminars that he organized, his personal demonstration that small colleges can foster a high level of scholarly work in mathematics, and his devoted service in the councils of this Association, including CUPM, and two terms on the Board of Governors."
His dedication quickened our efforts, his wisdom guided our deliberations, and his friendship lightened our days. We mark his parting in sadness, and we speak our gratitude for the time he shared with us.
In honor of Dan Christie's contributions, the Northeastern Section inaugurated the Christie Lecture in 1978. The list of Christie Lecturers over the years reads like a Who's Who of mathematics : John Milnor,Gian-Carlo Rota, John T. Tate, John Wermer, Henry O. Pollak, Philip Davis, Thomas Tucker, Ernst Snapper, Rueben Hersh and Ron Graham.
James E. Ward
(The italicized quotes are from remarks made at a memorial service for Dan Christie in 1975.)