John Forbes Nash’s Princeton University Academic File Available Online

A lot of interest has been focused on John Forbes Nash *50 in the past several years. We’ve routinely seen high levels of traffic on our web page detailing our archival resources available on the famous mathematician. Astute readers have noted that the restrictions on Nash’s graduate school records would no longer apply following his death last month. In response, we have digitized his academic file and it is now available online.

Nash_John_Grad_50_file_photo

The file holds few surprises for those familiar with Nash, if any. In letters supporting his application to Princeton University’s doctoral program in mathematics, Nash’s professors at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) wrote that he was “a mathematical genius” who “gives promise of being a top-flight mathematician” and “unique in my experience of students. … possibly he is the very best.” John L. Synge, head of Carnegie’s mathematics department, warned Princeton not to be dissuaded by first impressions. “He might appear inferior, since he does not write out his work in polished form, nor does he lecture impressively,” Synge acknowledged. “However, this external clumsiness is more than compensated by quickness of understanding, originality, and capacity for seeing the inner meaning of an argument, all unrivalled in my experience.” Nash’s recommenders also noted his shyness and humility, as well as willingness to cooperate with others. One letter refers to Nash as “emotionally stable.”

Nash photo commentAs with most such files, however, much of the appeal comes from what it reveals about the more mundane aspects of Nash’s life. Those who do not relate to a strong aptitude for mathematics or winning the Nobel Prize may still find they have something in common with Nash. His disappointment in his dorm room at the Graduate College or his efforts to sell a small refrigerator may resonate with their own student experiences. Nearly everyone has had insecurity about a photograph at some point, so Nash’s complaints that his graduate school application photo does not do him justice have a charming universal quality.

This Week in Princeton History for December 22-28

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a dorm thief is caught, a movie about an alum premieres in town, and more.

December 22, 1898—A granite monument in Arlington National Cemetery at the grave of Major General William W. Belknap, Class of 1848 and former Secretary of War under Ulysses S. Grant, is presented to the U.S. government.

AC112_SP1_No._4599

Photo taken in Washington, D.C. at what the caption describes as “a chance meeting of Bradley M. Thomas (Class of 1849), George Alexander Otis (Class of 1849), Alfred Alexander Woodhull (Class of 1856), Princeton President John Maclean (Class of 1816), and Gen. William Worth Belknap (Class of 1848).” Belknap is on the bottom left. Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box SP1, Item No. 4599.

December 23, 1952—A young man recently expelled from Harvard University’s English Ph.D. program who had been going into Princeton dorms and stealing a variety of student possessions is apprehended by a University proctor. At the time, he was wearing shoes he had stolen from a dorm room. The Mercer County Court will later send him to the Menlo State Insane Asylum.

December 24, 1915—University president John Grier Hibben and his wife invite any students still on campus to have dinner in their home.

December 25, 2001—A Beautiful Mind opens at the Garden Theatre, four days before being shown nationwide. The movie, filmed on the Princeton University campus, is loosely based on Sylvia Nasar’s biography of John Nash *50 by the same name.

Russell_Crowe_Ron_Howard_2001_AC168_Box_198

Ron Howard directs Russell Crowe during filming of A Beautiful Mind, 2001. Office of Communications Records (AC168), Box 198.

For last week’s installment in this series, click here.

Fact check: We always strive for accuracy, but if you believe you see an error, please contact us.