Further information on Fall 2020 courses


Don Barry: A History of Mathematics from 30,000 BCE to 300 BCE


Class schedule (subject to revision):

Week 1:         The nature of theoretical thinking
xxxxxxxxxxxThe numerical ability of animals and of early humans
xxxxxxxxxxxThe development of numerical symbols and an abstract understanding of area

Week 2:         The mathematics of Egypt circa 1800 BCE

Week 3:         The mathematics of Sumer and Babylon up to 1600 BCE

Week 4:          Early mathematics in India circa 800 – 500 BCE

Week 5:          Early mathematics in China up to 150 AD

Week 6:          Archaeological evidence for early mathematics in Neolithic England
xxxxxxxxxxxiand in the Mayan civilization

Week 7:          Greece – Pythagoras and the origin of proof

Week 8:          Greece – Hippocrates of Chios, Aristarchus, Eratosthenes, and Euclid



I’ve essentially written the course, often drawing on journal articles or parts of many books, since no one or two books could come close to covering the topics that I cover. After each class I provide participants with the articles I’ve written and covered during the class – the number of articles ranges from 8 to 15 per class. I also provide participants with a variety of websites that they can go to and some You Tube videos, but all of those are best given out after each class.

There are two books that I’d like to require, and I will have participants read short sections in them before class. I’ll have the Content Bookstore order them. These are inexpensive and filled with interesting diagrams and pictures:

1. Numbers, the Universal Language by Denis Guedj. Focused on numbers. Available used online for under $10.

2. Sacred Geometry by Stephen Skinner. Looks at various metaphorical and spiritual meanings that we have seen in geometry in the past. Available new for less than $15 and used online for less than $10.

In no particular order, here are two books that I can recommend for either background or further reading. New copies are expensive, but they can be found used online for more reasonable prices (see, e.g., abebooks.com).

3. History of Mathematics: An Introduction, by Victor Katz. A very good general history that covers mathematics up to the present.

4. A History of Mathematics, A Brief Course by Roger Cooke. Hardly brief, but a good general history that gives nice background to the material we cover.