Rational Mechanics: The Classic Notre Dame Course

Author: Jayme Russell

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The late R. Catesby Taliaferro, professor of mathematics, was an integral part of the Notre Dame community for many decades. He came to Notre Dame in 1952 to work in the Great Books Program, which is now the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS). He relocated to the mathematics department in the mid-fifties and began teaching a course on rational mechanics. Talliaferro soon stood out as an educator and became known for his unique teaching style and his high standards for student performance. His rational mechanics class became so popular that he taught the course through the late 50’s, 60’s, and early 70’s.

This year, Taliaferro’s notes from the course were compiled and published as Rational Mechanics: The Classic Notre Dame Course. Notre Dame’s College of Science, Arts & Letters, and the Kaneb Center for Teaching and Learning supported efforts to bring Professor Taliaferro’s lecture notes to publication, recognizing Taliaferro’s class as the perfect example of a high-quality course that met the rigors of education at Notre Dame and influenced a vast number of students.

In a brief section on being Taliaferro’s former student, editor Thomas Banchoff details how aspects of the course were gathered together in this new publication: “Readers will see for themselves how it unfolds its topic by building the important historical aspects, in particular the work of Ptolemy, Huygens, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, and Euler, into a course of mathematics and physics that includes inner product spaces, differential geometry, and relative theory. Catesby’s course was very influential. It aroused a deeper interest in mathematics in many gifted Notre Dame undergraduates and enticed them to pursue graduate studies in higher mathematics. “ 

Rational Mechanics: The Classic Notre Dame Course is now available through Dover Books.