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Dirac Shoebox Collection


This collection contains a small portion of the Dirac Papers that was originally identified as part of a “shoebox collection,” presumably because they arrived at Special Collections & Archives in shoebox-type containers (or, actual shoeboxes) from either the Dirac home or Dirac’s FSU office.

We began by reviewing the Dirac Papers with an eye on the lookout for mathematical investigations. The initial motivation to investigate the collection in this way was that Dirac was “wooed…back to the lecture theatres in the mathematics department [at Bristol]…to do a full mathematics degree free of charge” at Cambridge beginning in September 1921 (Farmelo, 2009, p.47). According to the former finding aid, Series 1 of the Dirac Papers included “materials associated with [Dirac’s] student days at the Bishop Road primary school, the Merchant Venturers’ secondary school, the University of Bristol (1918-1921), and at St. John's College at Cambridge University (from 1921 through the awarding of his doctorate in 1926).” Of particular interest were the boxes (and corresponding folders) with dates from 1921 until 1926, as items focused on pure mathematics were more likely to appear during these years because of the influence of the course work that Dirac took when he first arrived at Cambridge.

In particular, this collection contains a set of documents selected from the “shoebox papers” in which we tried to make sense of mathematical problems found on a variety of repurposed paper. The items of interest which are displayed here fall into two categories: (1) work related to solving polynomial equations of degree n = 3, 4, 5, and 6, and (2) a selection of combinatoric problems.

Other materials from the Paul A.M. Dirac Papers are available in DigiNole and the finding aid for the entire collection is also available online. Follow the links above to explore that information.