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History of Mathematical Symbolism and Terminology

Anthony Piccolino, reviewer

This is a brief review of an intriguing and very informative website for anyone interested in the history of mathematical symbolism and terminology, especially mathematics teachers:  The website is maintained by Jeff Miller, a high school teacher at Gulf High School in New Port Richey, Florida .  The site is an excellent resource for teachers who wish to quickly access historical information and portraits of mathematicians for incorporation into their instructional units and lessons. 

            The site actually contains four subcategories entitled:

            •  Earliest Uses of Various Mathematical Symbols

            •  Earliest Uses of Some of the Words of Mathematics

            •  Ambiguously Defined Mathematical Terms at the High School Level

            •  Images of Mathematicians on Postage Stamps

Most of the information is presented in the form of lists highlighting dates of origin and  brief descriptions associated with the early use of symbols and words of mathematics.  Each subcategory concludes with an extensive listing of sources for further investigation. 

The first subcategory on Mathematical Symbols contains fourteen individual pages, each dealing with the history of symbols pertinent to a particular branch of mathematics such as probability and statistics, or to a particular concept in mathematics such as variables, operations, and functions.  The second subcategory provides an alphabetical listing of mathematical terms, their origins, and individuals who popularized their use. The list of terms is extensive, including many lesser known terms in addition to those that are well-known.  You simply click on a letter of the alphabet and a page containing mathematical terms beginning with that letter appears with all of the above information.  The third subcategory dealing with ambiguous terms in mathematics is also quite interesting, but contains substantially less from an historical point of view.  This section also includes questions from high school tests which contain ambiguities.  The fourth and final subcategory is an extensive collection of images of mathematicians ( well-known and many not so well-known) that have appeared on various postage stamps.  There are images of many mathematicians that are difficult to find in standard history of mathematics books.  Thus, it is a superb source for accessing images that you can project in your classrooms. 

In summary, I have found this website to be a delightful collection of information and images that are extremely useful to both my professional growth in mathematical history and a wonderful resource for obtaining materials for classroom use.  I urge anyone interested in the history of mathematics to visit this site.

Anthony Piccolino, Associate Professor, Montclair State University


Anthony Piccolino, reviewer, "History of Mathematical Symbolism and Terminology," Convergence (July 2007)