A History of Maths

20th August 2015 at 13:44


Doesn't it feel like mathematics was created and done the day before you were born?

The school curriculum only covers the facts, concepts and processes of mathematics.  It covers what is known, what has been discovered, what has been proved true, neglecting how​ it came to be known.  In this neglect we cast aside a deeply human story, a thrilling tale of truly epic scale, spanning some 4000 years.  Mathematics is the result of 4000 years of human toil, consequent of a incurable need to know the world we have been born into.

I won't be going into any of those stories now; I'll be attempting a whirlwind tour at Mathsconf5 on the 26th September, for those who are interested.  Earlier today, though, someone asked for a timeline of maths' development, and I happened to put something of that sort together a few years ago, so will share it here.  I hope it can be of at least some use.

The primary sources for the data are for those who are interested in digging deeper can be found here: Queen of the Sciences: A History of Mathematics, and here: Zero to Infinity: A History of Numbers.

Blocks in green represent societies of key influence at the time.

Blocks in yellow represent persons of key infleunce in maths' development.

Blocks in blue represent publications of said people.

Blocks in purple represent key ideas.


Blocks highlighted with shadows were selected as being more likely to appear somewhere in a school classroom, and so are all that's included in the second (reduced) timeline.


Timeline in Full

Link to high-res PDF.

Full Timeline


Timeline Reduced

Link to high-res PDF.

This version tries to focus in more on the topics that are likely to come up in the school classroom.

Reduced Timeline

Kris Boulton is deputy head of maths at King Solomon Academy.