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MA3E5 History of Mathematics

Lecturer: Jeremy Gray

Term(s): Term 1

Status for Mathematics students: List A

Commitment: 30 one-hour lectures. Students are to submit three essays

Assessment: One essay (500 words, 14%) by week 5. One essay (1,500 words, 26%) by week 8. One essay (2,000 words, 60%) at the start of Term 2. The deadline is enforced as described in the Exams and Assessment section of the Course Handbook.

Prerequisites: Prerequisites: MA133 Differential Equations, MA131 Analysis and MA106 Linear Algebra.

Leads To: Leads To: In terms of the mathematics, the course introduces some of the topics in MA250 Introduction to Partial Differential Equations and MA371 Qualitative Theory of ODEs in their historical settings, but will be studied independently.

Content: Mathematicians seek answers to questions, problems, and challenges of various kinds. They have at their disposal methods that may or may not work, and they get answers that may or may not be any use. This is clearest in mathematical physics (e.g. when a power series converges too slowly to be any help) but it can also be true in pure mathematics. This is a historical course about getting good answers to good problems in mathematics.

Aims: The module aims to:

  • consider topics in the history of ordinary and partial differential equations from their introduction in the 17th century to the early 20th century;
  • discuss what was taken to be so important about them.


    • To develop a critical sense of what was, and even what is, important and exciting about mathematics and its evolution.
    • To raise questions about the rigour in mathematics and its relation to problem solving.

    Books: A full set of Lecture Notes will be provided. There is no book on the topic, and in that sense the course will present the result of ongoing historical research. There are some specialist treatments of individual topics, and these will be pointed out as and when they are relevant.

    Additional Resources

    Year 1 regs and modules
    G100 G103 GL11 G1NC

    Year 2 regs and modules
    G100 G103 GL11 G1NC

    Year 3 regs and modules
    G100 G103

    Year 4 regs and modules

    Archived Material
    Past Exams
    Core module averages