Tuesday, July 01, 2014

The MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive

Mathematics teachers, students, and other math fans and enthusiasts will absolutely love the MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive (MHMA) published online by the School of Mathematics and Statistics of the University of St. Andrews, Scotland (the third oldest university in the English speaking world, behind Oxford and Cambridge, founded in 1413).

This comprehensive site allows users easy access to thousands of biographies of important mathematicians throughout the ages, informative articles on hundreds of math history topics, treatises on dozens of famous mathematical curves, fascinating time lines of mathematicians' lifetimes and key events in math history, a helpful glossary of mathematical terminology, indices of female mathematicians and math educational history, and links to other noteworthy math history sites.

Math fans can spend many enjoyable and informative hours on the MHMA. The articles and other resources it contains combine rigor with accessibility as scholarly works that nevertheless remain perfectly intelligible, interesting, and useful to the lay reader lacking a mathematics degree. It's no wonder the site gets two million hits per week and almost one million unique visitors per month.

One of my favorite sections is the quotations index, which lists pithy quotations by famous mathematical figures.

Here are a few gems I lifted from this area of the site:


George Pólya

The first rule of discovery is to have brains and good luck. The second rule of discovery is to sit tight and wait till you get a bright idea.

To teach effectively a teacher must develop a feeling for his subject; he cannot make his students sense its vitality if he does not sense it himself. He cannot share his enthusiasm when he has no enthusiasm to share. How he makes his point may be as important as the point he makes; he must personally feel it to be important.

A mathematics teacher is a midwife to ideas.

Look around when you have got your first mushroom or made your first discovery: they grow in clusters.

A GREAT discovery solves a great problem, but there is a grain of discovery in the solution of any problem. Your problem may be modest, but if it challenges your curiosity and brings into play your inventive faculties, and if you solve it by your own means, you may experience the tension and enjoy the triumph of discovery.

Bertrand Russell

The method of "postulating" what we want has many advantages; they are the same as the advantages of theft over honest toil.

The desire to understand the world and the desire to reform it are the two great engines of progress.

Although this may seem a paradox, all exact science is dominated by the idea of approximation.

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.

Boredom is a vital problem for the moralist, since at least half the sins of mankind are caused by the fear of it.

Men who are unhappy, like men who sleep badly, are always proud of the fact.

A habit of basing convictions upon evidence, and of giving to them only that degree or certainty which the evidence warrants, would, if it became general, cure most of the ills from which the world suffers.


Check here for the MHMA biography of Zeno of Elea, here for a discussion of the epicycloid curve (here for the Java-enabled version), here for a index of chronologies of important discoveries in mathematics, here for an index of time lines of mathematicians, here for the quotations index, and here for topics in the history of mathematics education.

If you like numbers, and you enjoy history, you'll love MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive.

See you there!


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