Fall 2006



title Ethnomathematics term Fall 2006 credits 2-4 time MTh 1:30 - 2:50 place Sci 217 level introductory faculty Carol Hendrickson and Matt Ollis prereq none


What is math and how is it used in daily life? We investigate these questions in various cultural contexts ranging from medieval southern Spain to indigenous Latin America to the islands of the Pacific. Many questions follow, including: How do people in different societies understand what we call "mathematics"? Is math universal? How is math learnt? In what ways do people use math to understand their world? What is the relationship between math and other aspects of people's lives? Number systems, geometry, game theory and fractals will be among the math topics considered.
Note: the course will be divided into two parts. Students may elect to take the course for 2-3 credits and attend classes Mondays only, which will be anthropology-heavy days. The 4-credit version includes a Thursday class that emphasizes more mathematical dimensions of the subjects.




Topics for the Monday (anthro-heavy) classes are below. The Thursday (math-heavy) classes will cover three major topics: modular arithmentic, symmetry and fractals. We'll spend abour four weeks on each of these. More often than not the Thursday class will go deeper into the mathematics of the topic from the Monday class of that week.
Required reading and preparation for each class can be found here.

Mathematics Elsewhere = ME
9/6&7 Intro sessions

9/11 What is Ethnomathematics?
-- “Anthropology and the Philosophy of Arithematic” by Gary Urton. In The Social Life of Numbers: A Quechua Ontology of Numbers and Philosophy of Arithmetic.
-- writing assignment: a math-autobiographical essay

9/18 Numbers/math in cultural context
-- selection from the chapter “Through the Supermarket” in Cognition in Practice by Jean Lave. Pp. 152-169.
-- selection from What to Eat by Marion Nestle. Chapters 1-3, pp. 17-45.
-- writing assignment: a “field trip” to a grocery store and math-in-practice

9/25 Time
-- chapter 2 in ME
-- “Railroad Space and Railroad Time” from The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the 19th Century, by Wolfgang Schivelbusch. Pp. 33-44.
-- writing assignment: "time in your world"

10/2 Time
-- chapter 3 in ME
-- selected readings on Maya calendar systems, from Barbara Tedlock’s Time and the Highland Maya (chapter 4 “The Calendar,” pp. 88-104) and Linda Schele and David Freidel’s A Forest of Kings (section “The Shape of Time,” pp. 77-84).

10/9 Divination
-- chapter 1 in ME
-- “Bamana Sand Divination” by Ron Eglash (in American Anthropologist 99(1): 1997). (Available on-line through the library’s subscription to AnthroSource)

10/16 Maps and Models
-- chapter 4 in ME
-- “Iconic Devices: Toward an Ethnography of Physics Images” by Sharon Traweek. In Cyborgs and Citadels: Anthropological Interventions in Emerging Sciences and Technologies, edited by GL Downey and Joseph Dumit. Pp. 103-115.
-- Also, take a look at Edward Tufte’s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and Envisioning Information (on reserve in the library). There’s no particular reading here. Just browse and get a sense of what he’s talking about.

10/23 Hendricks Days

10/30 Tiling: Islamic beliefs and patterns, with guest Amer Latif
-- reading TBA

11/6 Tiling: the example of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain
-- reading TBA

11/13 Tiling: Maya weaving
-- reading TBA

11/20 Fractals
-- chapter 6 of ME

11/27 Fractals
-- African Fractals, chapters 2 and 3

12/4 in-class presentations

12/11 in-class presentations courses/ fall2006/ethnomath/ syllabus
last modified Sunday September 24 2006 11:53 pm EDT