Glen Van Brummelen, Quest University Canada
Monday, March 10, 2014
cosponsored by HOM SIGMAA (History of Mathematics)
Abstract: Although all triangles (plane and spherical) could already be solved in the early 16th century, trigonometry advanced almost beyond recognition by the time logarithms were invented in 1614. From just the sine function, all six of our current functions were born. With the new functions and the numerical tables that came with them, the theory could be enhanced, simplified, and made more elegant. Most crucially, rather than existing simply as a handmaiden to the astronomy that had given it life, trigonometry became a powerful tool in geography, optics, navigation, surveying, even architecture. This was the period, and trigonometry was the subject, that placed mathematics at the center of a quantitative scientific approach to our world that still flourishes today.
Biography: Glen Van Brummelen of Quest University Canada is a historian of mathematics, especially trigonometry and astronomy in ancient Greece and medieval Islam. He is president of the Canadian Society for History and Philosophy of Mathematics (2012-14), and governor-at-large for Canadian members of the Mathematical Association of America (2013-16). In addition to authoring 30 scholarly and 15 encyclopedia articles, he is co-editor of Mathematics and the Historian's Craft (Springer) and author the first history of trigonometry in over a century (The Mathematics of the Heavens and the Earth: The Early History of Trigonometry, Princeton University Press). Van Brummelen recently published Heavenly Mathematics: The Forgotten Art of Spherical Trigonometry (Princeton) and finished co-editing with Nathan Sidoli From Alexandria, Through Baghdad: Surveys and Studies in the Ancient Greek and Medieval Islamic Mathematical Sciences in honor of J. L. Berggren (Springer, 2014).