Center for Quantitative Medicine
University of Connecticut Health Center
Farmington, CT 06030
Dept. of Mathematical Sciences
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, NM 88003 USA
Below we provide information on:
Our journey towards utilizing original texts as the primary
object of study in undergraduate and graduate courses began at
the senior undergraduate level. In 1987 we read
William Dunham's article A "Great Theorems" Course in
Mathematics (American Mathematical Monthly 93
(1986), 808-811), in which he describes a course based on
mathematical masterpieces from the past, viewed as works of
art. His ideas and materials went on to become the well
known best-seller Journey Through Genius: Great Theorems of
Mathematics. We were inspired to develop a similar
course, at the senior level, but with one crucial difference:
Whereas Dunham presents his students with his own modern rendition
of these masterpieces, our idea was to use the original texts
themselves. With assistance from New Mexico State
University's honors program, dean, and mathematics department, we
developed and team taught the course Great
Theorems: The Art of Mathematics, and it has now
found a successful and permanent niche in the university's
curriculum, serving as a lively capstone course for students
majoring in a number of diverse disciplines. It is the only
mathematics course certified to meet the university's "Viewing a
Wider World" upper division general education requirement. Our
experiences with this senior level course convinced us that
teaching with original sources could be both successful and
inspiring for us and our students. The course is described
in detail in Mathematical
Teaching With Original Sources (html) (or dvi
(in Vita Mathematica: Historical Research and Integration with
Teaching, R. Calinger (ed.), MAA, Washington, 1996, pp.
257-260). We also involved other faculty in teaching and
contributing material for this course. Our four author second book Mathematical Masterpieces: Chronicles by
the Explorers has emerged from this course, written with
two of these colleagues at New Mexico State University, Arthur
Knoebel and Jerry Lodder.
We came to believe that this approach to teaching and learning could also help provide the motivation, perspective, and overview so lacking in typical lower division courses, since it is being increasingly recognized that an historical point of view can address these deficiencies. As Niels Henrik Abel observed: "It appears to me that if one wants to make progress in mathematics, one should study the masters and not the pupils." We have written an article Recovering Motivation in Mathematics: Teaching with Original Sources (html) (or dvi or ps) (UME Trends 6, September 1994) espousing our reasons and philosophy for this teaching approach. We were inspired to try to use the study of original texts as a teaching pedagogy introducing lower division students to important currents of mathematical thought.
Thus we developed the course Spirit and Evolution of Mathematics, again with support from the New Mexico State University mathematics department and honors program, allowing us to team teach the course while under development. It provides an "introduction to great problems of mathematics" for students with a good high school background in mathematics, and is intended both to attract and retain mathematics majors, and to give non majors a rich experience in the nature and content of mathematical thought, satisfying a lower division university mathematics general education requirement (the course is one of only a handful certified for this). In fact, the true prerequisite is a certain level of mathematical maturity and ability, rather than courses with specific content. Thus, a much broader audience has access to an interesting course with serious mathematical content. Our experiences, after teaching this course numerous times, have shown that with careful selection of original texts, supplemental prose readings, and appropriate format for classroom activities and assignments, this approach can be a tremendous success. Students find the study of original sources fascinating, especially when combined with prose readings supplying cultural and historical context, giving the course something of an interdisciplinary flavor. The benefits for instructors and students alike are a deepened appreciation for the origins and nature of modern mathematics, as well as the lively and stimulating class discussions engendered by the interpretation of original sources. The course is described in detail in our article Great Problems of Mathematics: A Course Based on Original Sources (html) (or dvi or ps) (American Mathematical Monthly 99 (1992), 313-317). Our first book Mathematical Expeditions: Chronicles by the Explorers grew out of this course.
Since then we have expanded the use of original sources into high school courses as well as graduate courses. Work with high school students during two summer workshops at Colorado College with Mike Siddoway is described in Great Problems of Mathematics: A Workshop for High School Students (html) (or dvi or ps) (College Mathematics Journal 25 (1994), 112-114). We also conducted a graduate course at New Mexico State University for high school teachers on using original sources in the high school curriculum. Our graduate students showed great interest in this, and it has evolved into a regular graduate course The Role of History in Teaching Mathematics, providing part of a growing mathematics education component in the mathematics graduate program at New Mexico State University. The paper A graduate course on the role of history in teaching mathematics describes the course and its origins. The course syllabus considers the use of history, in particular original sources, throughout the mathematics curriculum. Our graduate students in this course develop and critique major teaching units based on history, often on original sources, and we now have quite a collection of the historical teaching modules they have written. A number of these have been tested in the classroom. Their level ranges from middle school through the advanced undergraduate curriculum. Write to us if you want copies of any of these. Our long-term dream is that the entire mathematics curriculum should be historically based, with original sources playing a role throughout, and we ourselves are endeavoring to incorporate both history and original sources into all the courses we teach.
More recently David has teamed up with other colleagues from mathematics and computer science in applying our approach to the teaching of discrete mathematics, broadly conceived. We are combining the pedagogy of student projects (introduced into our calculus classes years ago) with the pedagogy of using original historical sources, in a NSF-funded program to develop and test student projects written using primary sources for teaching discrete mathematics.
Teaching with historical sources has also led us to several research projects in the history of mathematics, as shown in our articles listed below.
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Our first book of annotated original sources
The cover features portraits of five mathematicians whose original writings are at the heart of our five chapters, overlain with Sophie Germain's handwriting from a letter she wrote to Gauss in May of 1819 on her work on Fermat's Last Theorem, also featured in the book. See if you can read what Germain wrote to Gauss, or identify the people in the portraits. The book includes translations of Germain's letter and manuscripts, and ninety-four portraits, mosaics, artwork, facsimiles of handwritten manuscripts and letters, and figures.
From the back cover
This book contains the stories of five mathematical journeys into new realms, told through the writings of the explorers themselves. Some were guided by mere curiosity and the thrill of adventure, while others had more practical motives. In each case the outcome was a vast expansion of the known mathematical world and the realization that still greater vistas remained to be explored. The authors tell these stories by guiding the reader through the very words of the mathematicians at the heart of these events, and thereby provide insight into the art of approaching mathematical problems.
The book can be used in a variety of ways. The five chapters are completely independent, each with varying levels of mathematical sophistication. The book will be enticing to students, to instructors, and to the intellectually curious reader. By working through some of the original sources and supplemental exercises, which discuss and solve -- or attempt to solve -- a great problem, this book helps the reader discover the roots of modern problems, ideas, and concepts, even whole subjects. Students will also see the obstacles that earlier thinkers had to clear in order to make their respective contributions to five central themes in the evolution of mathematics.
Mathematical Expeditions is suitable for several types of college courses:
Mathematical Expeditions has been reviewed by the Mathematical Association of America. And there is also a review in Mathematical Reviews.
And here are brief biographies of ourselves.
Here you can also view the book's preface (which discusses teaching uses for the book), the table of contents, some chapter synopses, and some excerpts from various sections. (The figures and photos don't show up here, the page numbers don't match those in the table of contents, and page breaks and spacing are different from the actual published book.) We welcome your questions, or requests for further excerpts you would like to see. We will add other synopses or excerpts from time to time.
Together with our colleagues Arthur
Knoebel and Jerry Lodder,
and with further support from the National Science Foundation, we
have written an elder sibling for Mathematical
Expeditions. The new book Mathematical Masterpieces contains annotated original sources from our upper
division course Great Theorems: The
Art of Mathematics, presented as a capstone
for the undergraduate mathematics curriculum. The book is
available now from Springer, in
hardcover or paperback, in their Undergraduate Texts in
Mathematics/Readings in Mathematics series.
The cover features portraits of mathematicians whose original writings are at the heart of our four chapters. See if you can identify the people in the portraits. The cover also shows a figure by Huygens from the construction of an evolute in his Horologium Oscillatorium (The Pendulum Clock), in our chapter on the development of the concept of curvature. And we display Chinese text by Qin Jiu-Shao on approximating roots of polynomials, from our chapter on numerical solutions of equations. The book has many portraits, artwork, facsimiles of original works, and figures.
From the back cover
discovery of mathematics by reading the original work of some
of the greatest minds throughout history. Here are
the stories of four mathematical adventures, including the
Bernoulli numbers as the passage between discrete and
continuous phenomena, the search for numerical solutions to
equations throughout time, the discovery of curvature and
geometric space, and the quest for patterns in prime numbers.
Each story is told through the words of the pioneers of
mathematical thought. Particular advantages of the historical
approach include providing context to mathematical inquiry,
perspective to proposed conceptual solutions, and a glimpse into
the direction research has taken. The text is ideal for
an undergraduate seminar, independent reading, or a capstone
course, and offers a wealth of student exercises with
a prerequisite of at most multivariable calculus.
Mathematical Masterpieces is suitable for several types of college courses:
Here you can read the book's preface (which discusses teaching
uses for the book), the table of contents, and the chapter
introductions and some sample sections of the book. The article The bridge
between the continuous and the discrete via original sources
describes one of the chapters, and the article Curvature
the Calculus Curriculum discusses how source material from
our curvature chapter has been used in teaching calculus.
David is part of a team of mathematicians and computer scientists
at this and other universities, who are applying this approach to
the teaching of discrete mathematics, broadly conceived. We are
melding the pedagogy of teaching with student projects (introduced
classes years ago) with the pedagogy of using original
historical sources, in a NSF-funded program to develop, test,
evaluate, and disseminate student projects written using primary
historical sources for courses in discrete mathematics,
combinatorics, abstract algebra, logic, and algorithmic thought in
computer science (and now even more!). See our web pages Teaching
Discrete Mathematics via Primary Historical Sources
for the pedagogy and results of our Phase I NSF pilot
grant, including the classroom projects developed and published
under that grant through year 2006. See our web pages Learning
Discrete Mathematics and Computer Science via Primary Historical
Sources for the work commencing in year 2008 under our Phase
II NSF expansion grant, including the many new projects being
created under that grant. And see the pages Transforming
Instruction in Undergraduate Mathematics via Primary Historical
Sources (TRIUMPHS) for continuing work commencing in 2015 to
develop primary source projects (PSPs) and mini-PSPs for the
content of all regular courses for mathematics majors, pre-service
teachers, and other STEM discipline majors. We welcome those who
would like to use or test our student projects.
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Original source materials available
Excerpts on the Euler-Maclaurin summation formula, from Institutiones Calculi Differentialis by Leonhard Euler (pdf format), or in (dvi format), and at the Euler Archive.
Excerpt from a letter of Monsieur Lame to Monsieur Liouville on the question: Given a convex polygon, in how many ways can one partition it into triangles by mean of diagonals?: Lame's elegant geometric solution to finding the one step recursion relation solving Euler's decomposition problem, leading to the factorial formula for Catalan numbers.
Other courses based on original sources
History of Mathematics with Original Sources; Gary Stoudt, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Work of Great Female Mathematicians; Hélène Barcelo, Arizona State University
History of Mathematics; Fred Richman, Florida Atlantic University
Development of Mathematical Ideas; Man-Keung Siu, University of Hong Kong
History of Mathematics; Phill Schultz, University of Western Australia
Bibliographies for using history in teaching
Some selected resources for using history in teaching mathematics; D. Pengelley
Bibliography of Collected Works of Mathematicians; Cornell University Mathematics Library
Articles on using history in teaching mathematics
Origin and Evolution of Mathematical Theories: Implications for Mathematical Education; Miguel de Guzmán
The ABCD of using history of mathematics in the (undergraduate) classroom; Man-Keung Siu
(in dvi format) (in pdf format) (see also our bibliography for reprintings).
Fred Rickey's home page on history of mathematics and teaching
History and Pedagogy of Mathematics (HPM); International Study Group
History and Pedagogy of Mathematics (HPM); America's Section
British Society for the History of Mathematics
Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Mathematics
Convergence: Where Mathematics, History and Teaching Interact, MAA
History of Mathematics Special Interest Group, Mathematical Association of America (HOMSIGMAA)
History of Mathematics; David E. Joyce, Clark University
History of Mathematics; David R. Wilkins, Trinity College, Dublin
History of Mathematics - Mathematics Archives, Univ. of Tennessee
The Math Forum Internet Mathematics Library
MathWeb History: American Mathematical Society
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Last revised April 12, 2017.