Mathematics 446

The history of mathematics - Fall, 2003

This term the main topic will be the history of numbers, with an emphasis on numbers which are not fractions. The course will be basically a series of snapshots of different periods. We'll begin with:
  • The Babylonian tablet YBC 7249
  • Plato's discussion of the square root of two in the Meno
  • Euclid's books V and VI from the Elements
  • Archimedes' applications of the method of exhaustion
and wind up eventually with
  • Dedekind's treatise on real numbers
  • Transcendental and algebraic numbers in the nineteenth century
References will be scattered - some in libraries, many on the Internet. All students will be expected to read and digest original sources (translated into English). They will also be expected to do independent projects, mostly involving an essay explaining what they find in an original source.

Class notes

In addition, use MathSciNet to locate articles by R. Creighton Buck (Sherlock Holmes ... ) and Eleanor Robson (Neither Sherlock Holmes ... ). In order to use MathSciNet you will have to use a University computer, or set up a proxy server through the UBC library. Instructions on how to do this can be found at