History of Mathematics

Every culture on earth has developed some mathematics. In some cases, this mathematics has spread from one culture to another. Now there is one predominant international mathematics, and this mathematics has quite a history. It has roots in ancient Egypt and Babylonia, then grew rapidly in ancient Greece. Mathematics written in ancient Greek was translated into Arabic. About the same time some mathematics of India was translated into Arabic. Later some of this mathematics was translated into Latin and became the mathematics of Western Europe. Over a period of several hundred years, it became the mathematics of the world.

There are other places in the world that developed significant mathematics, such as China, southern India, and Japan, and they are interesting to study, but the mathematics of the other regions have not had much influence on current international mathematics. There is, of course, much mathematics being done these and other regions, but it is not the traditional math of the regions, but international mathematics.

By far, the most significant development in mathematics was giving it firm logical foundations. This took place in ancient Greece in the centuries preceding Euclid. See Euclid's Elements. Logical foundations give mathematics more than just certainty-they are a tool to investigate the unknown.

By the 20th century the edge of that unknown had receded to where only a few could see. One was David Hilbert, a leading mathematician of the turn of the century. In 1900 he addressed the International Congress of Mathematicians in Paris, and described 23 important mathematical problems.

Mathematics continues to grow at a phenomenal rate. There is no end in sight, and the application of mathematics to science becomes greater all the time.

Regional mathematics | Subjects | Books and other resources | Chronology

Maintained by
David E. Joyce (djoyce@clarku.edu)
Department of Mathematics and Computer Science
Clark University

Initial work Oct. 12, 1994. Latest update Sept. 15, 1998.