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A Locally Compact REU in the History of Mathematics: Involving Undergraduates in Research - Structure (2)

Betty Mayfield (Hood College) and Kimberly Tysdal (Hood College)


A variety of field trips followed.  One week we went to the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian to meet with mathematics curator Peggy Kidwell. This trip was especially exciting as the museum was closed to the public for renovation, and so we had to get special permission to enter and walk by the spookily dark exhibits on our way to her office.  Ms. Kidwell showed us artifacts related to mathematics that were made or used during the era we were researching, and talked to us about the importance of family businesses in the manufacture of scientific instruments during that time.  We also talked to her about eighteenth-century women’s access to education, both in Europe and America, and she was able to tell us a little about the books they would have used.  She also helped us expand the boundaries of our research by looking at mathematics that was written for women, and not just by women, during Euler’s time.




At the NMAH:  Peggy Kidwell is third from left


Ronald Calinger from Catholic University was just completing a Dibner Fellowship at the Smithsonian that summer, working on his own book about Euler, and one week we visited him at the Cullman Library of the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History. He gave a nice talk about Euler, and we talked to him about women who may have been influenced by him. He also arranged for us to see some beautiful and rare old mathematics books from the library’s collection. We returned later to get a second look at a special edition of Euler’s Letters to a German Princess.




At the Cullman Library:  Ron Calinger is fourth from left


But the trip we took most often was to the Library of Congress; we traveled and worked there virtually every week.  We all got researcher’s cards and took the regular tour of the Library. We attended research orientation sessions both in the Humanities and Social Sciences Division and in the Science, Technology, and Business Division.  We spent some time in the Rare Books Room, looking at first editions of Maria Agnesi’s and Emilie du Châtelet’s work. Everyone we met was phenomenally helpful and nice; in fact they were thrilled to be helping us and excited that there were students doing research. They helped us find print and online resources; they called other libraries and offices for information. The Head Librarian of the Science Library, Constance Carter, was especially accommodating.  She and her staff set us up in a conference room and brought us books and helped us locate resources.


At the Science Library: Constance Carter is in the middle


Thursdays: Math in the original


On Thursdays one of the faculty members on the team would present something a little more challenging and lead a discussion on it.  We looked at some of Euler’s papers and books and worked through the mathematics.   We also used this day to read other primary sources, such as Maria Agnesi’s Analytical Institutions, and compared her presentation of calculus to that of Euler. One week we all spent this time translating Euler from the Latin (or trying to)!

Betty Mayfield (Hood College) and Kimberly Tysdal (Hood College), "A Locally Compact REU in the History of Mathematics: Involving Undergraduates in Research - Structure (2)," Convergence (February 2010), DOI:10.4169/loci003263