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Discovering the Beauty of Science - Virtual Tours and Field Trips Near You

Christine Latulippe (California State Polytechnic University, Pomona) and Joe Latulippe (California State Polytechnic University, Pomona)

Although we encourage you to visit the Beautiful Science exhibit, we recognize that not everyone is within field trip distance of the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. However, there are many resources about the history of mathematics that are only a mouseclick away. If we’ve piqued your interest, but you are too far away to visit the Beautiful Science exhibit at the Huntington Library, here are two online resources directly related to it:

  • Beautiful Science’s companion website is a beneficial resource for an introductory look at big names and ideas in the sciences and the interconnected nature of mathematics and science. In addition to the interactive timelines, the web site has digital book samples and recommended reading lists for each of the four areas of the exhibit.
  • The National Curve Bank, housed at California State University, Los Angeles, contains an electronic quiz composed of questions about images of resources found at the Huntington Library.

Additionally, past Convergence articles contain links to many online resources that can be used to enhance the teaching and learning of the history of mathematics. The Columbia University Library contains many “Mathematical Treasures” that can be accessed through an article by Frank Swetz and Victor Katz. These are high quality images and descriptions of pages from over 100 historical texts.

Expanding from texts to mathematics artifacts, the photographs of quipus in the Convergence article, “The Quipu,” by Frank Swetz were taken during an MAA Mathematical Study tour to Peru.

For more artifacts, and a truly virtual field trip related to the history of teaching mathematics, visit the Smithsonian Institute site, “Slates, Slide Rules, and Software: Teaching Math in America.”

Also in the category of virtual museums is the web site of the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford, England. The “Online Exhibits” section of the web site includes the text from within the section panels of many exhibits, in addition to images from the exhibits. This web site can also be accessed through Frank Swetz’s review of the Museum of the History of Science in Convergence. Much like the Smithsonian Institute site, this site gives not only images of mathematics texts and artifacts, but also narrative that completes the pictures and enhances their usefulness.

For a more hands-on field trip, historical mathematics resources and resources related to the history of mathematics can be found in a variety of places very near to you. Many university libraries house small collections of old mathematics texts and textbooks that provide an engaging perspective on early math resources. For example, at Cal Poly Pomona, we have found school math textbooks from the 1950s and a 1930 edition of Pappus’ commentary on Book X of Euclid’s Elements. Our library also holds four different editions of Descartes’ Discourse on Method, including a 1934 edition in French and a 1937 English translation, providing a great opportunity for students to compare and contrast.

Many Morrill Land Grant universities own mathematics texts dating back to at least the 1860s. For example, at Montana State University in Bozeman, there are geometry textbooks from the 1880s and an 1893 edition of Ball’s A Short Account of the History of Mathematics. At the University of Wisconsin, Madison, there are microforms of mathematics texts extending back to 1487 and a copy of a 1545 Italian edition of Euclid’s Elements. Sometimes larger libraries’ special collections will also contain historical mathematics artifacts, such as the Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets found at Florida State University, Catholic University of America, University of Pennsylvania, and Brown University.

You and your students may be surprised at the local treasures you are able to find that can be used to enhance your teaching of mathematics and the history of mathematics. Whether online or at a local museum, university, or library, we encourage you to find resources that are readily available in your neighborhood. It’s time for a field trip, so get those permission slips ready ….

Christine Latulippe (California State Polytechnic University, Pomona) and Joe Latulippe (California State Polytechnic University, Pomona), "Discovering the Beauty of Science - Virtual Tours and Field Trips Near You," Convergence (April 2010), DOI:10.4169/loci003445