I’m teaching a first-year module on the history of mathematics for undergraduate mathematicians this term. In this, I’m less concerned about students learning historical facts and more that they gain a general awareness of history of maths while learning about the methods used to study history.
Last week, I decided I would discuss myths and inaccuracies. Though I am aware of a few well-known examples, I was struggling to find a nice, concise debunking of one. I asked on Twitter for examples, and here are the suggestions I received, followed by what I did.
An obituary has been published in The Guardian for Ivor Grattan-Guinness, historian of mathematics and logic, who died of heart failure on 12th December 2014. This begins by explaining that when Ivor became interested in the history of mathematics in the 1960s,
it was an area of study widely considered to be irrelevant to mathematics proper, or something that older mathematicians did on retirement. As an undergraduate at Oxford, he found that mathematics was presented drily, with no inkling of the original motivations behind its development. So Ivor set himself the task of asking “What happened in the past?” — as opposed, he said, to taking the heritage viewpoint of asking “How did we get here?”
Read more: Ivor Grattan-Guinness obituary (The Guardian).
Via Dave Richeson on Twitter.
Just a little note to let you know that there’s a new StackExchange Q&A site for “History of Science and Maths”. Some of the maths questions that have already been asked include:
So if you’ve got a burning question about Maths in the Past, there’s now a place to ask it.
Visit the site: hsm.stackexchange.com
Imagine, if you will, a group of people who enjoy recreational mathematics and consequently decide that there should be more places for them to share fun maths. It’s crazy and unprecedented, I know, but humour me.
Recreational Mathematics Magazine does what it says on the tin. It’s a semiannual electronic journal published by the Ludus Association addressing “games and puzzles, problems, mathmagic, mathematics and arts, history of mathematics, math and fun with algorithms, reviews and news.”
What do these three pictures have in common?
The first is the bust of Nefertiti, an Egyptian queen. The bust is now in the Neues Museum in Berlin and is one of the most beautiful works of art. Nefertiti is translated as “a beautiful woman has come”. The word nefer is in this case translated as ‘beautiful’.
The second is a drawing of a Grecian urn by Keats. Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn ends with the line “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,”.
The third picture is part of the Moscow Mathematical Papyrus from ancient Egypt.
The Turing Solution, a BBC Radio 4 documentary presented by Matt Parker covering “mathematician and code-breaker Alan Turing, and his role in the invention of the computer”, was broadcast last week and is currently available on BBC iPlayer. A quick (28 min) biography covering various aspects of his life and work (particularly including his mathematics and work in early computing), with a wide range of interesting contributors, this is well worth catching.