Teaching a Course in the History of Mathematics

The intent of this page is to gather together information on teaching courses on the history of mathematics. It is intended to be especially helpful to first time teachers of such courses. The proximate reason for creating this page is the following minicourse at the annual MAA meeting in Baltimore:

V. Frederick Rickey, U.S. Military Academy
Victor J. Katz, University of the District of Columbia

Many schools are introducing courses in the history of mathematics and asking faculty who may never have taken such a course to teach them. This minicourse will assist those teaching history by introducing participants to numerous resources, discussing differing approaches and sample syllabi, providing suggestions for student projects and assessments, and giving those teaching such courses for the first time the confidence to master the subject themselves and to present the material to their students. Download materials for this minicourse.

PowerPoint used during the minicourse.

Topics to be discussed:

I. How to Organize a Course

  1. Who is your audience and what are their needs?

  2. What are the aims of your course?

  3. Questions about the nature of mathematics and its history.

  4. Types of history courses.

  5. Textbooks for survey courses and comments about them.

  6. Textbooks for other types of courses.

  7. The design of your syllabus.

  8. Exams.

  9. Is a field trip feasible?

  10. History of Math Courses on the Web

II. Resources in the History of Mathematics

  1. Books, journals, and encyclopedias.

  2. Bibliographies and indexes.

  3. Electronic library catalogues and data bases.

  4. Web pages.

  5. Electronic discussion groups.

  6. Caveat emptor.

III. Student Assignments

  1. Learning to use the library.

  2. What to do about problem sets?

  3. Joint or individual projects?

  4. Written projects and/or oral reports?

  5. Possible student paper topics.

  6. Projects for prospective teachers.

IV. How to Prepare Yourself

  1. Start a reading program now!

  2. Collect overhead transparencies.

  3. Outline your course day by day.

  4. Resources available to the teacher.

  5. Is there a course in the history of mathematics at your school?

  6. Advertising your course.

  7. Get to know your library and librarians.

  8. Record keeping for the history of mathematics teacher.

V. Evaluation of Your Course

  1. Evaluation by the instructor.

  2. Evaluation by the students.

  3. Evaluation by outside "experts".

You may be interested in the original proposal for this minicourse. It contains a tentative list of topics that will be covered. Hopefully it will be of interest to people who are considering submitting a proposal for an MAA minicourse on any topic.


Return to the Fred Rickey's home page.
If you have comments, send email to V. Frederick Rickey at fred-rickey@usma.edu .
First posted 2 December 1996. Most recent revision: January 2009.