History of Mathematics is a multidisciplinary subject with a strong presence in Oxford, spread across a number of departments, most notably the Mathematical Institute and the History Faculty. The research interests of the members of the group cover mathematics, its cultures and its impacts on culture from the Renaissance right up to the twentieth century.
Core research topics include the development of abstract algebra during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Christopher Hollings), and the effects of twentieth-century politics on the pursuit of mathematics (Hollings). Other interests are the history of mathematical logic (David Dunning), as well as the philosophy of logic and computing, particularly in relation to computing/comperization in Eastern Europe (Máté Szabo), the mathematics of Mary Somerville (Brigitte Stenhouse), the historiography of ancient mathematics (Hollings), and the mathematics of Ada Lovelace (Ursula Martin, Hollings). Away from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, much of the historical mathematical research in the History Faculty focuses on the place of mathematics in the transformation of intellectual culture during the early modern period (Philip Beeley, Benjamin Wardhaugh): the group has a strong background in the mathematics of seventeenth-century Europe, with studies of, for example, the correspondence of the seventeenth-century Savilian Professor of Geometry John Wallis and of the mathematical intelligencer John Collins (Beeley). The recent 'Reading Euclid' project sought to understand the place of Euclid's Elements within early modern British culture and education (Beeley, Wardhaugh).
Current students linked to the group include Kevin Baker (History Faculty, working on the first readers of Newton’s Principia). Currently visiting the group is Tomoko Kitagawa (global history of mathematics in the 17th century).
Others in Oxford with interests in the history of mathematics include Howard Emmens (history of group theory), Raymond Flood (Irish mathematics), Keith Hannabuss (nineteenth-century mathematics), Daniel Isaacson (the rise of modern logic, 1879–1931), Rob Iliffe (Newton and Newtonianism), Stephen Johnston (early modern practical mathematics and instruments), Matthew Landrus (Renaissance mathematics and the arts), Alessandra Petrocchi (Sanskrit, Latin, and Renaissance mathematics), and Robin Wilson (nineteenth-century mathematics, and the history of combinatorics).
The links below lead to some case studies of research carried out by members of the group:
- Mathematics and Politics: The International Congresses of Mathematicians
- Exploding the myths of Ada Lovelace’s mathematics
- Tinkering with postulates. How some mathematics is now redundant. Or is it?
- The Correspondence of Charles Hutton
- Oxford's female computing pioneers
- The Oslo International Congress of Mathematicians in 1936 and the first Fields Medals
- Changing attitudes towards ancient arithmetic: reconciling mathematics with Egyptology
The group holds a semiregular departmental seminar, as well as an annual series of general lectures entitled 'What do historians of mathematics do?', held in Trinity Term. Members of the group also organise a seminar in ‘the History of the Exact Sciences’ during Hilary Term and a research workshop in early modern mathematics each December. These events are complemented by Oxford’s wide range of activity in history of science, technology and medicine more generally, for which the Oxford Centre for the History of Science, Medicine and Technology provides a focus.
Within the Mathematical Institute, the group offers the following undergraduate teaching:
- BO1 History of Mathematics for third-year mathematics undergraduates,
- BOE Extended Essay for third-year mathematics undergraduates,
- COD Dissertation for fourth-year mathematics undergraduates and students on the OMMS course.
The group welcomes applications for postgraduate study, which would be based either in the Mathematical Institute or the History Faculty, depending on the interests and background of the applicant. Avenues for study include the MSc or MPhil in History of Science, Medicine and Technology, or a DPhil in the History of Mathematics. Prospective applicants are encouraged to contact either Dr Christopher Hollings (Mathematical Institute) or Dr Benjamin Wardhaugh (History Faculty) to discuss options.