The Mathematics Genealogy Project at North Dakota State University documents lines of academic filiation (primarily through doctoral degrees) in mathematics. It makes for interesting reading. Though my degree is "Asian Linguistics", I can connect myself to the mainstream mathematical tree through a sub-branch of four progenitor Doktorväter:
- Josiah Royce, 1878 (Philosophy)
- Henry M. Sheffer, 1908 (Philosophy)
- Yuen Ren Chao 趙元任, 1918 (Philosophy)
- Jerry Norman, 1969 (Oriental Languages)
Through Royce, I can trace my "pedigree" to various luminaries of the Humanist era: Erasmus, Vesalius, Ficino, Copernicus, Leibniz, and Marin Mersenne, a student of prime numbers after whom is named the Mersenne twister, a pseudo-random number generator now widely used on personal computers. To Kant, as well, and to non-Humanists like Thomas à Kempis and Thomas Cranmer. Reading backwards into the past (that is the true direction of time, you know), most lines peter out in the early 15th century; earlier stragglers include the mathematician and theologian Heinrich von Langenstein, an antecedent of Copernicus who received his Theol. Dr. in 1375, while the neo-Platonist Georgios Plethon Gemistos seems to have received the first of his degrees in 1380.
There is romance in seeing one's connection to people like Leibniz and Erasmus, but it means little beyond that. Does anyone with a PhD today, in any field, not belong to those lines of filiation? And never mind the diploma; does anyone who inquires seriously and at length about ideas or facts, and who has taken another such person as teacher for an extended period, not belong to those lines? As of today, Erasmus is shown to have 95301 descendants listed in mathematics alone. I have learned an enormous amount from Jerry Norman, and it is justice to call him my Doktorvater. I find myself in strong agreement with Chao's model of formal Chinese historical phonology, too, and I have a special love for logic. But the model of linguistic fieldwork I use owes considerably more to Robert Austerlitz and Li Fang Kuei 李方桂 than to Chao, whose approach I consider altogether too literary. I also identify myself intellectually with my maternal grandfather, who left school when he was 12 but was a voracious reader and lifelong pursuer of ideas. At best, all that a paper pedigree can do is remind me to try to be true to the effort that generations of scholars, known and unknown, have made in order to seek knowledge and see clearly — to those ideas and those people all human beings are equally heirs.
There is at least one program available to generate graphs from the Project: see http://www.davidalber.net/geneagrapher/.