"Lecture" for Week 1

Opening remarks

Welcome to Math. 629, History of Mathematics, an Internet course. Please read the official syllabus handout. In summary: There will be no tests, but there will be weekly homework assignments and some longer papers. A history course is not a typical math course; I am confident that we will all find it strange but enjoyable. There will be more about course procedures at the end of this message. This week you should familiarize yourself with this web site, the eCampus system (a tall order -- after a year, I don't understand most of it), and the TAMU Library site. (See the links back on the class home page.)

I intend to start every week with a message like this one. A big advantage of the distance learning setup is that I am not obligated to fill up 150 minutes with talk if I don't have that much to say. Conversely, if I run on a bit long some week, you won't be late to your next class.

Let me start by declaring some of my prejudices.

Very early mathematics

(You might want to read Allen's first and second chapter first.)

What happened before Egypt? It is hard to know precisely about peoples whose written records were primitive or nonexistent. Perhaps the closest we can come is to look at isolated tribes that are still alive today. Here are three recent anthropological research papers, whose conclusions seem to point in opposite directions:

(You should have no trouble accessing Science -- or any other journal I cite -- through the TAMU Evans Library portal. However, I do sometimes have trouble creating direct Web links to the articles.)
At a less isolated level (and much farther north), we have J. Lipka, "Culturally Negotiated Schooling: Toward a Yup'ik Mathematics," Journal of American Indian Education 33 (May 1994) Number 3 .

Clearly we could surf the Web forever, and I don't expect you to read everything I found interesting. But here are some optional threads you might like to pursue (maybe springboards to paper topics):

More about practical matters

Our textbooks

Professor Allen's on-line material gives better coverage of early history, while the book of Stillwell is better on recent centuries. So, the readings will gradually migrate from the one to the other. Compared to other books, Stillwell has two unusual features, one of which is just a practical complication for us while the other is more substantive.


If you haven't done so already, explore our class page at http://ecampus.tamu.edu. There are 2 facilities installed so far:

How to submit written assignments

Timing and placement

Communicating mathematical symbolism electronically is a scandalous headache. Different students will have different software and expertise available, so I do not aspire to impose uniformity.

  1. Paper mail and Fax should be avoided unless necessary. Occasionally you may need to send a hand-written diagram or (less likely in this course) a long hand-written calculation.
  2. E-mail attachments will probably be the most common mode, whether you are mailing things to me or installing them in eCampus discussion pages. (Here is some information on how to do that. It refers to Wikis, but I think they work the same as Discussions.) Various formats are possible. I am very much a TEX partisan, but I understand that many students will need to use something like Microsoft Word.
  3. For various reasons, it may sometimes be better to install your paper on a personal Web page and e-mail the URL to me (and, when appropriate, the class).