Thirty-nine years of harmonic maps
John C. Wood
I dedicate this account to my family, especially my wife of 35 years, Donna.
Abstract. This is a personal account of the author’s involvement in nearly
40 years of harmonic maps. There is not much mathematics, but I hope that
it will be mildly amusing and provide light relief from the interesting, but
demanding, papers in this volume.
This is not an account of the state of harmonic maps. Such an account would
be impossible in such a short space: the subject is now so large, typing ‘harmonic
map*’ into Math Reviews gives over 3000 items, and Zentralblatt gives over 5000! I
shall make some mathematical remarks, but limited to my interests over the years.
There are now many ﬁne books and survey articles on various aspects of harmonic
maps: for a recent account of harmonic maps concentrating on existence, uniqueness
and regularity, see [HW]; the account that follows is much more a personal account
on the author’s maths-related experiences.
1. Early years and Oxford
I always wanted to be a mathematician for as long as I can remember. I have
been very fortunate in my life, ﬁrstly, by having parents who encouraged me to
realize my potential, secondly, by having two inspiring teachers at Worcester Royal
Grammar School who, once a week, departed from the narrow syllabus to discuss
interesting ideas, not always mathematical.
I am not brilliant, but I worked hard and got an open scholarship to Wadham
College, Oxford, where I read Mathematics from 1967 to 1970. In the ﬁrst year, I
nearly changed to Mathematics and Philosophy, but when invited to think about
whether a tree was still there when I closed my eyes, decided that I didn’t want to
spend my life thinking about that, and stayed on the Mathematics degree. Oxford
was good for my mathematical career with many interesting courses and a great
tutorial system. Like most students, I got completely drunk after ‘moderations’, the
ﬁrst year exams — Oxford has lots of special words, for example, the three academic
terms are called ‘Michaelmas’, ‘Hilary’ and ‘Trinity’, see [OW]; Cambridge has
diﬀerent special words. Whilst drunk, I was rude to a tutor and fell oﬀ a wall. I
c 0000 (copyright holder)
Volume 542, 2011
c 2011 American Mathematical Society