Celebratio Mathematica

Irving Kaplansky

Kap and the AMS

by John Ewing

For more than forty years, Irving Ka­plansky was act­ive in the Amer­ic­an Math­em­at­ic­al So­ci­ety, and for much of that time he was a driv­ing force. He began as as­so­ci­ate ed­it­or of the Bul­let­in at the age of twenty-eight in 1945 — the same year that he joined the fac­ulty of the Uni­versity of Chica­go. Two years later, he be­came an ed­it­or for the Trans­ac­tions, and ten years after that he was an ed­it­or for the Pro­ceed­ings. He thus served as ed­it­or for the en­tire com­ple­ment of AMS journ­als at the time.

In ad­di­tion to his role with journ­als, Kap was act­ive in the So­ci­ety’s gov­ernance for many years. He was elec­ted to the Coun­cil in 1951 as a young fac­ulty mem­ber, and later was elec­ted to the Board of Trust­ees (as an older one). He was elec­ted vice pres­id­ent in 1974, put­ting him back on the Coun­cil, and fi­nally in 1985–86 was elec­ted pres­id­ent of the AMS. All to­geth­er, he served a total of ten years on the Coun­cil and sev­en years on the Board — a great many meet­ings for any­one!

The four years from 1984–87, which in­cluded his time as pres­id­ent elect and past pres­id­ent, were par­tic­u­larly event­ful for the So­ci­ety. Kap played a key role in every one of those events. The AMS hos­ted the 1986 In­ter­na­tion­al Con­gress, which took place in Berke­ley; Kap was on the loc­al or­gan­iz­ing com­mit­tee and over­saw many as­pects of the Con­gress. The So­ci­ety was un­der­go­ing some rad­ic­al changes dur­ing this time, in­clud­ing its re­cov­ery from a dis­astrous fin­an­cial situ­ation earli­er in the dec­ade and a re­struc­tur­ing of Math­em­at­ic­al Re­views ad­min­is­tra­tion; again, Kap played a key role in re­shap­ing the AMS. And it was dur­ing this peri­od that the AMS de­cided to cre­ate a premi­er journ­al — the Journ­al of the Amer­ic­an Math­em­at­ic­al So­ci­ety. Kap was the one who cham­pioned this idea (which came from the Com­mit­tee on Pub­lic­a­tions) and helped bring the journ­al to life by care­fully choos­ing the first ed­it­or­i­al board.

The most re­mark­able fea­ture about Kap’s ser­vice to the So­ci­ety was his style. In every job he un­der­took — in everything he did — he was force­ful and yet grace­ful, elo­quent and yet thought­ful, en­er­get­ic and yet po­lite. When he re­ceived the AMS Steele Prize, Ca­reer Award in 1989, the cita­tion ac­know­ledged that style by hon­or­ing him for “his en­er­get­ic ex­ample, his en­thu­si­ast­ic ex­pos­i­tion, and his over­all gen­er­os­ity.” It went on to point out that he “has made strik­ing changes in math­em­at­ics and has in­spired gen­er­a­tions of young­er math­em­aticians.”

Kap left his mark on many parts of math­em­at­ics, but he es­pe­cially left his mark on the So­ci­ety.