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German's Qinna Shen Looks at Mathematician Emmy Noether's Time at Bryn Mawr

March 19, 2019
Qinna Shen at Emmy Noether's birthplace in Erlangen, Germany

When former Bryn Mawr faculty member Emmy Noether died in 1935, Albert Einstein wrote to The New York Timethat she was “the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began.”

Born in 1882, Noether overcame the sexism of her time to become a prominent mathematician in her native Germany. However, the rise of the Nazis and their laws against Jews, including barring them from professorships, nearly derailed her career just as it was reaching its apex.

Noether was able to escape Germany in 1933 and come to Bryn Mawr through the efforts of the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German Scholars and then Bryn Mawr President Marion Edwards Park. In an article in the latest edition of the journal Mathematical Intelligencer, Assistant Professor of German Qinna Shen writes about Noether's time at Bryn Mawr.

"Whereas Noether’s earlier life and work in Erlangen and Göttingen is well documented, many of the materials concerning her emigration and time at Bryn Mawr have not yet been collected and organized," writes Shen. "This essay aims to undertake that task and to make the story of Noether, still recognized as the greatest woman in her field, known beyond the circle of mathematicians and physicists."

Filled with correspondence from Park and Noether, Shen's article looks at the many factors that led the mathematician to finally choose Bryn Mawr. Complications from surgery cut Noether's life short at the age of 53. But prior to her death, she confided to a colleague that her time at Bryn Mawr had been the "happiest in her whole life." 

A pre-print version of the article is available online at Scholarship, Research, and Creative Work at Bryn Mawr College, an open-access repository for research and scholarship produced by the faculty and staff of Bryn Mawr College, and for materials published at and about the College.

Qinna Shen is Assistant Professor of German at Bryn Mawr College. Her research interests concentrate on the areas of German studies (20thcentury), film studies, and transnational studies with a focus on Sino-German relations. She has published numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals and edited volumes. Her book, The Politics of Magic: DEFA Fairy-Tale Films, was published in 2015 by Wayne State University Press. It is the first comprehensive, critical, book-length treatment of the live-action fairy-tale films from the former East Germany. Her co-edited volume Beyond Alterity: German Encounters with Modern East Asia appeared in the series Spektrum: Publications of the German Studies Association in 2014 with Berghahn Press.

A Refugee Scholar from Nazi Germany: Emmy Noether and Bryn Mawr College

Department of German and German Studies

Department of Mathematics