Scope and Content


The Society was founded in 1936 in Balliol College by Henry Whitehead, then Fellow and Tutor in Mathematics and University Lecturer; with the instrumental influence of Graham Higman, who was at that time a Balliol undergraduate. The Society met, initially, thrice-termly in Whitehead's rooms; Whitehead taking the office of Chairman (the equivalent of the modern Senior Member) of the Society from its inception until the 1940s. It remained at first a rather 'closed' affair for the edification of Balliol men alone until 1938, when growing interest in the subject and changes in the societal infrastructure of the University as a whole engendered by the threat of war prompted a move to open the organisation to all eligible members of the University. Accordingly, meetings were held in the larger College lecture rooms as well as in more centralised locations such as the Engineering and Physics laboratories. Similarly, the Society's new popularity prompted an increase in the number of meetings held per term, which rose from three to the now customary six or eight over a period of only 6 years.

The Constitution has remained largely unchanged since the production of the first draft in 1956. It still includes a clause concerned solely with the welfare of lady members of the Society, going so far as to recommend the provision of a Women's representative should women be under-represented on the committee. Unlike many University Societies founded prior to the Second World War, the Invariant Society did not prohibit membership of 'UnderGraduettes', a constitutional point ensuring the survival of the Society during the 1939-1945 period when its administration lay often entirely in the hands of its female members. The various 'Society sub-groups', however, have now been incorporated into the general programme of the Society as a whole, possibly due to the pressure put on individual memberships through the establishment of further University clubs more wholly concerned with these activities, as well as increased financial pressures put upon the student community in general. Other Society 'traditions' still remain, such as the annual Members' Dinner, although earlier 'Musical Evenings' and the 'Discotheque Parties' of the 1960s have been discontinued due to changes in fashion. A very early, and at that time unusual, feature of the society was the 'Members' Papers Evening', first recorded at a meeting of 1938 and still a popular part of the present programme.

With advances made in Mathematics research, the rang of topics and activities accessible to Society members has naturally expanded, although it is interesting to note that those features recorded on recent termcards as being popular with the membership are those that have been enjoyed since the Society's inception. With regard to links with the outside world, the Invariant Society enjoys a long-standing connection with its Cambridge University equivalent, the Archimedeans, to whom it owes much, although not all, of its original structure. The Society also has links with various more recent Mathematics Societies, most notably that of the University of Warwick, the foundation of which, in its turn, owed a great deal to the support of the Invariant Society at that time.



The correspondence is listed always in the form as between [sender] and [recipient]: i.e.) 'correspondence between Dr. X and the President' denotes Dr. X as the author of such, and the President the recipient of the missive. Any cases where the recipient has returned the letter to its originator with the reply appended are denoted in the catalogue by the phrase 'reply by annotation from [X] included'. Dates appearing at the side of the pertinent entry denote the date of the piece itself, any date included in square brackets being deduced from other available evidence such as further dated correspondence and termcards. Notes on the correspondence pertinent to, but not included within it as a body, are similarly included in square brackets at the end of the catalogue description.


These are listed in chronological order. It is, however, worth noting that the university year runs from October to the following June, therefore the termcards for (e.g.) Michaelmas Term 1994, Hilary Term 1995 and Trinity Tern 1995 more accurately reflect the Society's activities over one academic sequence than would the termcards for Hilary 1995, Trinity 1995 and Michaelmas 1995 in this case.

Names of Persons included in the Catalogue

With regard to correspondence, undergraduate members' names are listed in full, with the name of the correspondent speaker or tutor being given in the form of initials and surname only, except in those cases where the speaker is of some international or national note (for example, Carol Vorderman and Benoit Mandelbrot), where the name given is that under which they appear or publish.

In any case where the initials or surname are unclear, the deuced name is preceded by the query point [?] in the section heading or catalogue description.

Catalogued by Kirstie Jackson; October 1998

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