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Why History of Mathematics?

Author(s): 
Glen Van Brummelen (Quest University)

Many Convergence readers are likely aware of Glen Van Brummelen's multimedia presentations on medieval and early modern Islamic and European mathematics, chiefly astronomy and trigonometry. (See, for example, this 2014 talk at the MAA Carriage House which has a link to the slidecast at the bottom of the page.) Doing, teaching, and studying history well are also among his long-term passions.

In the 2019–2020 academic year, the Ministry of Education in British Columbia added a course on History of Mathematics to the Grade 11 curriculum. To prepare for the debut of the course specifications, the editors of Vector, the semiannual magazine of the British Columbia Association of Mathematics Teachers, asked Van Brummelen to explain why the subject is worth teaching. Editors Sean Chorney and Susan Robinson, along with Van Brummelen, have generously shared the published article with Convergence:

Glen Van Brummelen, "Why History of Mathematics?" Vector, Vol. 60, No. 2 (Fall 2019), pp. 19–23. Reprinted with permission from Vector, the official journal of the British Columbia Association of Mathematics Teachers.

(Click on the title to download a pdf file of the article, "Why History of Mathematics?")

For other statements by Van Brummelen on the importance of history of mathematics in the classroom, see "Filling in the short blanks: Musings on bringing the historiography of mathematics to the classroom," BSHM Bulletin, Vol. 25, No. 1 (March 2010), pp. 2–9, DOI: 10.1080/17498430903321125, as well as a predecessor to the article reprinted here, "Why Use History in a Mathematics Classroom?" CMS Notes, Vol. 41, No. 1 (February 2015), pp. 16–17. The latter piece is part of CSHPM Notes, a column on history or philosophy of mathematics by authors from the Canadian Society for History and Philosophy of Mathematics, which has been published in Notes of the Canadian Mathematical Society since 2014. For links to all of the columns in the series, click here

Van Brummelen's passion and talent for doing, teaching and studying history well is further evidenced by the introductions to his monographs:

About BCAMT

The British Columbia Association of Mathematics Teachers (BCAMT) is a Professional Specialists Association (PSA) formed by the BC Teachers Federation. Its role is to support mathematics teachers and mathematics education in BC. The organization offers a monthly email newsletter, a list-serv, Vector, conferences and workshops, and grants and awards. For more information on BCAMT membership, visit https://www.bcamt.ca/join-the-bcamt/.

Glen Van Brummelen (Quest University), "Why History of Mathematics?," Convergence (January 2020), DOI:10.4169/convergence20200102

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