Wonderful Women Wednesday: Dr. Uta C. Merzbach

Each week, the Archives features a woman who has been a groundbreaker at the Smithsonian, past or present, in a series titled Wonderful Women Wednesday.

Dr. Uta C. Merzbach, the Smithsonian’s first curator of mathematical instruments, worked in the Division of Physical Sciences and Mathematics at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History from 1964 until 1988. Merzbach acquired a variety of objects for the Museum with a primary emphasis on those made and used in the United States. She also contributed to the compilation of oral histories related to the history of computing, helped institute the use of computer interactives in the Museum, and was instrumental in the efforts to track objects with computerized databases.

Merzbach is the author of Scheutz and the First Printing Calculator (1977), Carl Friedrich Gauss: A Bibliography (1984), and Dirichlet: A Mathematical Biography (2018), published after her death in 2017.  She was also behind the major revisions to a new edition of A History of Mathematics in 2011.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in 1952 and a master’s degree in pure mathematics in 1954 from the University of Texas in Austin. In 1965, Merzbach completed her doctorate in mathematics and the history of science from Harvard.

Merzbach stands at the forefront of a photograph with three men and one woman standing behind her. T

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