• Gen Ed - Math

    By Peggy Hohensee, PhD
    Director of Math Across the Curriculum

    In 2005, I completed my Master of Science in Applied Mathematics. One of the courses in my degree program was the History of Number Theory. It was a fascinating course which thoroughly (and pleasantly) surprised me because I had never been a huge fan of number theory, and I especially disliked history courses. That experience taught me that you never know when/where you will learn new and interesting things.  Nearly 10 years later, I still remember snippets of that course. Here is an example:

    Most ancient knowledge in the field of number theory surviving today originated with the Egyptians, Babylonians, and Chinese and India/Hindu societies. From the Egyptian culture, we have 2 Papyri that have survived: the Rhind and the Moscow. These Papyri contained approximately 90 problems from ancient Egypt. Most of the problems were geometry, but they did contain some arithmetic. 

    Unlike the Egyptians, the Babylonians used cuneiform (clay) tablets. To date many thousands of these tablets have been unearthed, but it is speculated that many hundreds of thousands may still lie undiscovered. Imagine the knowledge still yet to be unearthed!

    There are no known surviving ancient texts from the Chinese or India/Hindu societies. In approximately 213 BC, the Chinese Emperor wanted to be the originator of all knowledge. As such, he had all books burned under threat of hard labor, and he forced all scholars to give up teaching under threat of death. Although there was no such threat made to the India/Hindu scholars, we have no records prior to those kept by the Persians beginning around 600 AD. Either records weren’t made, or more likely, writings were done on paper which did not survive over time.

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