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St Andrews History of Mathematics Archive

Barnabas Hughes, reviewer

Located at the University of Saint Andrews, Fyfe, Scotland, is The MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive.  Likened to a magic castle with friendly surprises as one wanders about its passages and climbs its turrets, the web site is found at  It offers four major resources and half-a-dozen others loaded with information.  The largest resource is the Biographies Index.  Updated regularly with new additions as well as improvements on current biographies, the index offers two approaches to finding data on mathematicians, an alphabetic list and a chronological list.  To give you an idea of the size of the resources, there were 109 names under the letter A when I counted them (October 2003).  The chronological list is arranged in 29 groups from - 500 AD to 1940 - present, from the Egyptian scribe Ahmes to 33 living mathematicians (born since 1940).  A subset of the Biographies Index names 76 female mathematicians.  Each biography offers a portrait (where possible), the usual vital statistics, and a detailed story of the person's life and accomplishments.  Further are a list of the subject's works, articles about the works, and a reference to a map which locates the mathematician in her/his own world.  I experimented with its search machine by typing CIRCLE SQUARERS; this brought me more information than I really wanted.  While some specialists may wince at a statement or two in a biography, by and large what you read is reliable. 

The second resource is named History Topics Index.  There are two parts:  Mathematics in Various Cultures (nine of these) and Mathematical Topics (eight here).  The former presents essays on national groups:  Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek, Hindu, Arabic, Mayan, Incan, American, and Scottish (!).  The Mathematical Topics section offers these essays: an overview of the history of mathematics; algebra; analysis; geometry and topology; numbers and number theory; mathematical physics; mathematical astronomy; and mathematical education down the ages with emphasis on Britain and Scotland.  To give an idea of the depth of some topics, the umbrella term ANALYSIS includes the history of elliptic functions, calculus, and trigonometric functions. 

Also listed on the mast-head of the web page are Famous Curves and Mathematician of the Day.  Sixty-two curves are named with instruction on how to manipulate them, well worth exploring.  The second site offers you names and dates of all who were born/died on any day of the calendar, together with the possibility of obtaining a portrait of the person.  At the foot of the day's report are links to other resources.  These are Societies and Honors, Quotations, Anniversaries, Time Line, and Birthplace Maps, the last listing all the mathematicians who lived in a particular country. 

John J. O'Connor and Edmund F. Robertson of the School of Math and Statistics at the University of St Andrews deserve the thanks of every teacher of mathematics who wishes to interest oneself or one's students in the history of mathematics.  Historians might find it a short cut to discovering books and articles about some mathematician.


Barnabas Hughes, O.F.M., California State University, Northridge


Barnabas Hughes, reviewer, "St Andrews History of Mathematics Archive," Convergence (July 2007)