User:LGreg/sandbox/Approaches to Knowledge (LG seminar 2020/21)/Seminar 18/History/History of Mathematics

Though the start of its acknowledgement as a discipline is up for debate, use of mathematics can be traced back as early as 70,000BC, when geometric patterns were scratched into ochre rocks in the Blombos Cave, South Africa.[1] However, mathematics began as a discipline much later. In the 1850s, ancient Babylonian clay tablets were discovered, some of which appeared to be inscribed with graded mathematics homework.[2] Furthermore, the modern-day system of 60 seconds in a minute and 360 degrees in a circle was also developed by the Babylonians.[3] This apparent student-teacher relationship, along with the long-lasting influences of Babylonian mathematical studies would suggest that the Babylonian civilization had established mathematics as a discipline in the Middle East around 2000 BC, long before the same occurred in Europe.

In Greece, the Pythagoreans named mathematics “mathema”, meaning “subject of instruction”, in the 6th century BC.[4] The naming of the subject solidified its position as a formal discipline, which has been studied and further developed by countless subsequent civilisations.

In his three-volume work the Principia, published in 1687, Isaac Newton used calculus to solve many problems, including planetary motion, and the oblateness of the Earth. This is an example of how the discipline of mathematics has changed over the centuries. As it continues to develop, mathematics can be used to solve increasingly complex problems, and with the development of other disciplines such as physics and technology, it is now used in a variety of fields, such as quantum mechanics; a relatively new field which began being studied in the 19th century.

In fact, it is this adaptation to modern interests and needs which dictates how the discipline of mathematics advances. While in Babylonia mathematics was needed to describe something as fundamentally important but relatively simple as time, in the 21st century, it is used to optimize the aerospace and automotive industries[5], and other such applications that are relevant to today’s society.

References edit

  1. Henahan S. Art Prehistory [Internet]. Access Excellence. 2002 [cited 19 October 2020]. Available from:
  2. Merzbach U, Boyer C. A History of Mathematics. 3rd ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons; 1991.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Heath T. A History of Greek mathematics. Clarendon Press; 1921.
  5. Mathematics for the 21st Century [Internet]. Maths History. 2016 [cited 19 October 2020]. Available from: