MA370 History of Mathematics

Ethan Bolker
Spring 2014


Math majors. Anyone else interested in the history of mathematics.

Goals of This Course

To learn some of the history of mathematics, of course. To learn why you might want to know that history. To practice reading and writing mathematics. To stretch yourself intellectually.

Course structure, grades

We will study the history of mathematics by working with original sources to see how the inventors of the concepts we take for granted today thought about them when they were new - topics of serious research interest, not yet formalized and packaged for students to master.

The class is small. I expect everyone to participate actively, asking questions, presenting homework solutions. I may set up a wiki where you can construct lecture notes interactively and collectively.

There will be homework, and a term paper to be presented to the class.

I do not use an algorithm to compute grades. I'll discuss that in class. I know that the students in the class are starting from different places mathematically. I expect each of you to learn at a level that's appropriate. So the same work may mean an A for someone and a B for someone else.

I do not grade on a curve. Everyone can earn an A. (Wouldn't that be a wonderful class!)



Where and when:

TuTh 11:00AM - 12:15PM, Wheatley W01-0031.

Getting help and encouragement

I am always glad to talk about mathematics. Whenever my door is open (most of TTh) you are free to ask questions. Email to eb at cs dot umb dot edu is the best way to reach me, both during the day and evenings and weekends. My office phone is 287-6444 but I don't have voice mail and I.m not always there.

Often other students in the class can help you. It's worth learning how to work with, learn from (and help) your peers - how else will you keep learning when you've left school?


We will work extensively with the resources in Mathematical Expeditions - Chronicles by the Explorers , Reinhard Laubenbacher and David Pengelley, Springer, 1999, ISBN 978-0-387-98433-9 (softcover).

It's on order at the bookstore and available on the web.

You may find that it's worth bringing the book to class.


Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 offers guidelines for curriculum modifications and adaptations for students with documented disabilities. If applicable, students may obtain adaptation recommendations from the Ross Center for Disability Services, Campus Center, UL Room 211, (617-287-7430). The student must present these recommendations and discuss them with each professor within a reasonable period, preferably by the end of Drop/Add period.

Student Conduct

For the rules concerning the acknowledgment of intellectual debt, and the value of working with sources and fellow students, see


The Registrar's web-site states:
The grade incomplete (INC) is reported only where a portion of the assigned or required class work, or the final examination, has not been completed because of serious illness, extreme personal circumstances, or scholarly reasons at the request of the instructor. If the student's record is such that he or she would fail the course regardless of the missing work, he or she fails.

The key point is that the grade of incomplete is NOT a substitute for an F. You must notify me as soon as possible about any special circumstances that affect your ability to complete your work on time.