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Mathematical archive of Professor Alexander Craig Aitken

 Fonds — Multiple Containers
Identifier: Coll-1529

Scope and Contents

The collection is composed of mathematical mansucripts and the corrected manuscript, and correspondence around, the publication Gallipoli to the Somme: Recollections of a New Zealand Infantryman. It also contains off-prints and publications by Aitken, papers and correspondence relating to Aitken's work at Edinburgh University and letters to and from academics, family and friends, as well as letters of condolence addressed to Mrs. Aitken. There is also a quantity of photographs both portrait and group, and of newspaper/press cuttings/clippings.


  • Creation: 1910-1995

Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

Open to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance of visit.

Biographical / Historical

Mathematician and statistician Alexander Craig Aitken was born on 1 April 1895, in Dunedin, New Zealand. He was educated at Otago Boys' High School and then at the University of Otago from 1913, enrolling in mathematics, French and Latin, though his studies were interrupted by War. During the First World War he served in the Middle East and in France, participating in the latter stages of the Gallipoli Campaign, and then in the field in northern France where he was wounded in the Battle of the Somme. He was invalided home to New Zealand in 1917.

Aitken resumed his studies in 1918, and in 1920 he married Winifred Betts, a student of botany who later became the first female lecturer at the University of Otago. Aitken himslef became an assistant to Professor R.J.T. Bell (1876-1963) at Otago. He was awarded a University of New Zealand scholarship to study under Professor E.T. Whittaker (1873-1956) at Edinburgh University and he left New Zealand in July 1923, with Winifred joining him at the conclusion of the academic year.

In 1925, Aitken was appointed to the staff at Edinburgh as Lecturer in Actuarial Mathematics, and that same year he completed his thesis on the graduation of observational data. This was done at the expense of a severe breakdown in 1927 however. In 1936, he was promoted to Reader in Statistics following his being made a Fellow of the Royal Society, and was invited to take up the chair of Pure Mathematics on Whittaker's retirement in 1948.

Aitken owned a legendary memory and calculative power, and he could recite the first 700 or so decimal places of 'Pi'. He published on such topics as symmetric groups, invariants, the solution of linear and polynomial equations, eigenvalue problems, and computational algorithms. His published work includes: jointly with H. W. Turnbull, The Theory of Canonical Matrices (1932); with D.E. Rutherford, editor of a series of University Mathematical Texts; the paper Determinants and Matrices (1939); the paper Statistical Mathematics (1939); The case against decimalisation (1962); and, the memoir Gallipoli to the Somme: Recollections of a New Zealand Infantryman (1963).

Professor Alexander Craig Aitken died on 3 November 1967.


7 boxes

Physical Location

CLX-A-609 CLX-A-610 CLX-A-611 CLX-A-612 CLX-A-613 CLX-A-614

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The archive was acquired by purchase in early 2014. Accession no: E2014.17.

Related Materials

Also within Special Collections, Edinburgh University Library, are: 'Papers of Professor Alexander C. Aitken' known as Coll-1068, and 'Correspondence between Dr. Ian M. L. Hunter and Prof. Alexander C. Aitken', known as Coll-1235.

Processing Information

Catalogued by Graeme D. Eddie 20 March 2014

Papers of Professor Alexander Craig Aitken (1895-1967)
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Edinburgh Library Heritage Collections Repository

Centre for Research Collections
University of Edinburgh Main Library
George Square
Edinburgh EH8 9LJ Scotland
+44(0)131 650 8379