Math History on the Internet

[Image from the MacTutor Archive.]

The story of mathematics is the story of interesting people. What a shame it is that our children see only the dry remains of these people’s passion. By learning math history, our students will see how men and women wrestled with concepts, made mistakes, argued with each other, and gradually developed the knowledge we today take for granted.

In a previous article, I recommended books that you may find at your local library or be able to order through inter-library loan. Now, let me introduce you to the wealth of math history resources on the Internet.

[These will also be added to my math resources page.]

Math History on the Internet

Quicklinks for easy browsing:

Math History > Most Valuable Sites

The MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive
My favorite place to begin any foray into math history. Highlights include:

La Habra High School’s Math History Timeline
Math discoveries, publications, and other tidbits — from paleolithic number bones to the present.

[Back to Math History quicklinks.]

Math History > General Resources

Biographies at Wolfram MathWorld
Long, long list, and each biography is linked to explanations of the mathematician’s major discoveries.

Biographies of Women Mathematicians
Indexed alphabetically, chronologically, and by country of birth. Includes modern news tidbits, too.

A Completely Inadequate Bibliography of the History of Mathematics
“Most of the following books are aimed at the professional non-mathematician (i.e., someone to whom the land of mathematics is an interesting place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there).”

An online magazine from the MAA: “Where mathematics, history, and teaching interact.”

Fred Rickey’s History of Mathematics Page
Includes Teaching a Course in the History of Mathematics and An Annotated Bibliography.

Galileo and Einstein: Overview and Lecture Index
Lecture notes on the history of math and physics.

Mathematicians of the 17th and 18th Centuries
Adapted from A Short Account of the History of Mathematics, by W. W. Rouse Ball.

Mathematicians of the African Diaspora
Black men and women of mathematics, in history and in the present.

Mathematical Quotation Server
I love quotations! No matter what I want to say, somebody else has probably already said it better.

Math Forum History Listings
“651 items found.” No, I have not checked them all. Go browse for yourself!

Math History and Mathematicians Pages
Julie Brennan at Living Math is building an index of links to biographical information, famous quotes, activities and book suggestions to accompany a homeschool math history course. [Sample lessons.] The last time I visited, she had almost finished the first year’s listings.

Philosophy of Science
Many assorted links to readings for a college class, including several chapters from String, Straightedge & Shadow.

[Back to Math History quicklinks.]

Math History > By Topic

Abacus: The Art of Calculating with Beads
The abacus through history, how to make and use an abacus, and classroom ideas.

“This site is a collection of Archimedean miscellanea under continual development.” See also: Archimedes’ Approximation of Pi, and The Archimedes Palimpsest.
Edited to add: Prehistoric Calculus: Discovering Pi.

Earliest Known Uses Of Common Mathematical Symbols and Words
Research is ongoing (I found a page that had been modified last week), so don’t assume that a citation is the earliest use unless indicated as such.

Euclid’s Elements
David E. Joyce brings the text of Euclid’s 13 Books to life with Java applets. See also: An Introduction to the Works of Euclid.

Famous Problems in the History of Mathematics
This site includes problems, paradoxes, and proofs that have inspired mathematicians through the ages, plus links for further exploration.

A Golden Sales Pitch
“There is little evidence to suggest that the golden ratio has any special aesthetic appeal… When a myth is repeated over and over, it begins to sound like truth.”

The History of Measurement
“There were unbelievably many different measurement systems developed in early times, most of them only being used in a small locality.”

Hypatia of Alexandria
Lots of links, including The Primary Sources for the Life and Work of Hypatia of Alexandria. See also: Hypatia, the First Known Woman Mathematician.

MacTutor Topical Indexes

Mathematical games and recreations
“The whole history of mathematics is interwoven with mathematical games which have led to the study of many areas of mathematics.”

The Mathematical Problems of David Hilbert
With a link to Hilbert’s 1900 address to the International Congress of Mathematicians in Paris, surely the most influential speech ever given about mathematics. Wolfram MathWorld has an annotated list of all 23 problems.

MathPages History Topics
A wide assortment of tidbits for advanced students.

Slide Rule History
“The slide rule has a long and distinguished ancestry … from William Oughtred in 1622 to the Apollo missions to the moon.”

Who was Fibonacci?
“A brief biographical sketch of Fibonacci, his life, times and mathematical achievements.”

[Back to Math History quicklinks.]

Math History > Cultures or Time Periods

Ancient Africa
Part of the Mathematicians of the African Diaspora website.

History of Egyptian and Mesopotamian Mathematics Page
An excellent resource for my Alexandria Jones stories.

History of Mathematical Education
What topics of mathematics have been taught in different cultures and time periods? Why have these changed?

MacTutor Mathematics in Various Cultures

Mathematics in Specific Cultures, Periods or Places
A short collection of links. This site also contains: Websites relevant to the History of Mathematics.

Mesopotamian Mathematics
“From the earliest tokens, through the development of Sumerian mathematics to the grand flowering in the Old Babylonian period, and on…”

[Back to Math History quicklinks.]

Math History > For Elementary/Middle-School Students

Adding with the Abacus
“What did people do to save time working out more difficult problems before the calculator existed?”

Ancient Greek Mathematics
Selections from String, Straightedge & Shadow:

Archimedes & Large Numbers
A brief look at Archimedes, Avogadro, and Cantor. See Approximating Pi for an interactive demonstration.

“Calendars were one of the earliest calculating devices developed by civilizations.”

Egyptian Math
Could you survive in the world of Egyptian numerals and mathematics? [Note to teachers: The Egyptian Math Worksheet Creator looks like fun!]

Eratosthenes’ sieve
Click on any number, and all its multiples (except the number itself) will disappear from the chart. See also: Murderous Maths Prime Numbers Page.

Eureka! The Achievements of Archimedes
Click “next” to read the pages one by one, or browse through the Index.

Famous Problems in the History of Mathematics
This site includes problems, paradoxes, and proofs that have inspired mathematicians through the ages, plus links for further exploration.

The Golden Mean: Fibonacci and the Spiral of Beauty
For explanations and more fun, see: Fibonacci Numbers and Nature.

History of Fractions
“Did you know that fractions as we use them today didn’t exist in Europe until the 17th century?”

History of Measurement
To work effectively and share goods fairly, people had to find ways to measure their stuff. See also: Measure for Measure.

Leonardo da Vinci Activity
“Is the ratio of our arm span to our height really equal to 1?” See also: Teacher Lesson Plan and Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man.

Negative Numbers
“Among the earliest people to use negative numbers in calculations were the ancient Chinese.” See also: The History of Negative Numbers.

Pascal’s Triangle
Lessons and links for all grade levels. See also: All You Ever Wanted to Know About Pascal’s Triangle.

Pi, a Very Special Number
Over the centuries, mathematicians kept looking for better values for pi.

Platonic Solids
With printable nets, so you can make your own models. Part of the wonderful Maths is Fun site — take some time to explore!

“Pythagoras believed that everything in the world could be explained by numbers.” See also: All Is Number.

ThinkQuest History of Mathematics
Brief overview of math history, with biographies of influential mathematicians and short online quizzes.

Women in Maths
“Ever wondered why stories about mathematicians always seem to be about men? …There were a few women who dared to go against the flow.”

[Back to Math History quicklinks.]

5 thoughts on “Math History on the Internet

  1. Whew! This was a bigger task than I realized when I first suggested it. I added these links to my math resource page, too — and reorganized the old links for easier use — which increased the length of that page by 50%.

  2. Thanks for the encouragement, Jonathan! The resource pages are my all-time most-frequently-visited “post.” I have been collecting more links for it, but I haven’t found the time to sit down and enter them. Some day….

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