This article purports to show the main features in the life and work of mathematician Petar Živković, one of the leading proponents of mathematical, scientific and educational activities at the turn of the last century in Serbia. In the author's opinion he is entitled to a prominent place in this endeavour, if not the top, certainly not an insignificant one. Živković, according to the author's findings, is one of the first in this country to make a serious attempt to develop a systematic scientific work in the field of mathematics, while on the other hand he spent most of his energies in the span of a few decades to organize pedagogical activity at the secondary level of mathematical and physical education, spreading a stimulating and benign influence in all the environments where he worked. In the text that follows, the author has laid out some of the essential facts concerning him, and has attempted to elucidate and explicate his above claims.
He will begin with the most important facts concerning Petar Živković, born in 1847 at Zaječar, a small town at the eastern confines of Serbia. His father, most probably a businessman, was fairly well-to-do, which enabled him to finance his son's education at home and abroad. In the course of his schooling, Petar Živković, after completing his primary schooling in his birthplace in 1858, moved to Negotin where he began, then to Kragujevac where he completed in 1864 his secondary education. Motivated by his proclivity for mathematical and technical sciences, he enrolled at the recently established Technical Faculty of the Belgrade University, graduating after three years, in 1867. In a desire to further his education, he enrolled at the well known School of Polytechnics at Zurich, first in its mechanical engineering department from which after one year, dissatisfied with the insufficient share of mathematics in the curriculum, he moved to the department of mathematics and physics (where twenty years later Albert Einstein and his wife Mileva Marić were students). On his return to Serbia, he first unsuccessfully tried to obtain a teaching post at the university, and then, in 1872, he was appointed teacher of mathematics in the Teachers College at Kragujevac, where he taught until 1877.
After teaching for a year at the real gymnasium in Zaječar, he was professor of mathematics, physics and mechanics from 1878 to 1888 at the Belgrade real gymnasium. In this period he began publishing professional and pedagogical articles as well as larger texts which acquired the status of scientific works and were published in the Gazette of the Serbian Learned Society. These activities, as well as his acquired renown of a good pedagogue, earned him election as a regular member of the Serbian Learned Society in 1883. Following the subsequent establishment of the Serbian Royal Academy of Sciences, in which the Serbian Learned Society merged, Živković became its correspondent member in 1883. Just prior to the start of the 1888/1889 school year he was appointed director of the Uzice real gymnasium. In 1894 he took the directorship of the Valjevo high school, which post he retained until his retirement in 1904. Even after his retirement from civil service, he continued for a time working in education as director of a private girls high school at Valjevo until it closed down in 1912. At all times he was extremely successful in his educational practice, which he never gave up, as director and organizer of schools, and as a pedagogical writer.
To the end of his life, with some interruptions, he continued writting scientific articles in the Gazette of the Serbian Learned Society and later in the Voice of the Serbian Royal Academy of Sciences. In all he published nine such works. Živković's scientific contibutions dealt with elementary questions from the classical fields of synthetic, analytical and elementary differential geometry which he elaborated thoroughly and comprehensively for a long number of years. Following a mild polemic which brought out a relatively unfavourable assessment of his work voiced a few years ago by academician Miodrag Tomić, the prevailing opinion insisted on the above stated positive quality of his work and on the idea that the pioneers of scientific work in this country in the 19th century, in view of the conditions in which they worked and the point of departure from which they started, should be assessed by special criteria, different from the absolute and highest ones. Taking everything into consideration, Petar Živković, being one of the earliest scientific workers in the field of mathematics, deserves a modest but by no means insignificant place.
Just as honourable and eminent a place, in the autohor's opinion, pertains to Živković on account of his work in various secondary schools in the various parts of Serbia which filled the best forty years of his life, and where, to the utmost of his abilities, he endeavoured to move things forward, to introduce useful innovations, to enrich educational activities.
Appended to the text on the life and work of Petar Živković is a list of his published works and a list of sources of data on his person.
Author: Adamović, Dušan