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A Locally Compact REU in the History of Mathematics: Involving Undergraduates in Research - What Did We Learn?

Betty Mayfield (Hood College) and Kimberly Tysdal (Hood College)
  • The history of mathematics is an appropriate, accessible area in which undergraduate students can do meaningful research.
  • Working together in a group, structuring a project like a traditional REU, is rewarding and fun.
  • People love helping students.  Librarians, historians, mathematicians, curators are all happy to interrupt their ‘important work’ and give help and advice to undergraduates who show an interest in their field.
  • The Internet is a surprising resource for the history of mathematics.  Google and other resources for digitized books make rare texts accessible to everyone. For example, all of John Colson’s 1801 translation of Maria Agnesi’s Analytical Institutions is available, as is Henry Hunter’s translation of Euler’s Letters to a German Princess.
  • Our students learned to navigate the Library of Congress, a big research library that is very different from the library at our small college. But they also learned to navigate the D.C. Metro system. Because of this project, they were eligible for some travel funds and were able to participate in a mathematics conference. (One of them flew in an airplane for the first time.)  They met lots of fascinating people. The experience was educational in many ways, some unexpected and intangible.
  • Unusual things will happen to you! For instance, one of our summer adventures involved receiving an encouraging letter from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.