Mathematics 390:  History of Mathematics
Spring 2023

Professor:        Jeff Johannes                                    Section 1    MF 3:30-4:45p Welles 121
Office:            South 326A                    
Telephone:      245-5403
Office Hours:   Monday 5-6p Fraser 116, Tuesday 8-9p South 336, Wednesday 2-3p Fraser 104, Thursday 4-5p Fraser 116, Friday 12-1p Fraser 116, and by appointment or visit.
Email Address:


    Mathematics in Historical Context, Jeff Suzuki (the first two chapters are available at this linkThe entire electronic copy is available at this link.



    The first main goal of this course is to connect the mathematics you have learned (and some you haven't) with the history you have learned (and some you haven't).  The second main goal is to connect the mathematics you have learned together.

Learning Outcomes

    Upon successful completion of MATH 390 - History of Mathematics, a student will be able to:


    Your grade in this course will be based on four main components.  One-fifth each will be determined by daily reading and lecture reactions and by a midterm essay exam.  Three-tenths each will be determined by a research paper in history and mathematics and by a final essay exam. 


    There will be two lectures a week.  I will begin with comments addressing your reactions submitted the night before called "quick answers".  I cannot promise to address all of them, but I will try to include the recurring questions and more interesting comments.  Most of lecture-time will be spent elaborating on the mathematics that is discussed in the textbook.  The mathematical content in the book is light and lectures will expand on that content filling in the mathematical details.  You are responsible for both the content of the lectures and the reading.  They are not the same material twice. 

Reading and Lecture Reactions

    This book is much more a history book than a mathematics book.  It reads like "what mathematics was going on during all the history I learned about in humanities?"  The book begins at the dawn of human mathematics and runs through the second world war.  You have reading assignments for each class day, roughly ranging from 10 to 20 pages.  Our entire reading will come from our book, and we will complete the entire book by the end of the course.  By the end of Thursdays and Sundays (with two exceptions - midterm day and the final day) you are required to submit reading reactions before class.  These reading reactions must include reactions to at least five topics in the reading.  They must be written in intelligible English.  Each one will be evaluated out of 5 points, with points deducted for fewer than five points being addressed.  As part of your submission the day before, you will also submit lecture reactions.  Again there will be comments on five topics from the preceding lecture.  At most one of these comments may be on the opening discussion of prior feedback.  I don't want to get stuck on old material.  Here are some sample reading and lecture reactions from prior years.  I will drop your lowest reaction score.  If you don't complete the assignment due on 26 January, then you will use it for that one.  Think of it this way - by doing something before our first class you earn a pass for later in the semester. 

Opening Meeting

    Students will earn one extra midterm point by visiting office hours during the first two weeks of classes, i.e. no later than 13 February. 


    There will be a midterm and a final exam.  Both will be essay exams and involve analysis of the mathematical and historical content of our investigation.  Both will be typed in person in class and submitted via canvas.  The final will naturally be more lengthy.  Both will include a variety of questions and allow for some choice of which questions to answer.  More details will be provided as we approach the exams. 

Research Paper

    You will write a 1200-2000 word research paper on a topic in the history of mathemaitcs.  Papers will be graded in three main aspects:  writing, historical content, and mathematical content.  Stories about mathematicians will not suffice as mathematical content, and a date and name will not suffice for historical content.   The final paper will be a substantial research paper on a topic not covered in class.   Selecting the topic by the deadline will be worth 5%, the annotated bibliography will be worth 20%, the draft will be worth 30%, and the final paper will be worth 45%.  For those seeking a teaching certification, the topic must be from the  standards at their level of anticipated certification.  For those who are not, the topic must be from a post-secondary class they have already (or are currently) taken.  The topic should be a topic of no more than a week at either level (one point in standards would be typical).   Due dates are indicated in the schedule below.  Those wishing to satisfy oral research requirement may present their research paper during a GREAT day math. history session.  If you wish to satisfy the presentation requirement you must indicate so when submitting your topic.


    I have created a web-site which accepts anonymous comments.  If we have not yet discussed this in class, please encourage me to create a class code.  This site may also be accessed via our course page on a link entitled anonymous feedback.  Of course, you are always welcome to approach me outside of class to discuss these issues as well.   Occasionally I will ask you to give feedback about particular details in the course using this website.


    SUNY Geneseo will make reasonable accommodations for persons with documented physical, emotional or learning disabilities.  Students should consult with the Director in the Office of Disability Services (105D Erwin) and their individual faculty regarding any needed accommodations as early as possible in the semester.

Religious Holidays

    It is my policy to give students who miss class because of observance of religious holidays the opportunity to make up missed work.  You are responsible for notifying me no later than February 10 of plans to observe the holiday.  

Military Obligations

    Federal and New York State law requires institutions of higher education to provide an excused leave of absence from classes without penalty to students enrolled in the National Guard or armed forces reserves who are called to active duty. If you are called to active military duty and need to miss classes, please let me know and consult as soon as possible with the Dean of Students.

Schedule (subject to change)

January 27    Course Introduction, 1.1 and 1.2.1
January 30    1.2 and 1.3

February 3    2.1
February 6   2.2

February 10   3.1       Research Project Topic Due
February 13  3.2 and 3.3

February 17  4.1 and 4.2
February 20  4.3 and 4.4

February 24  5.1
February 27  5.2

March 3  5.3  
March 6  6.1  

March 10  6.2  Annotated Bibliography due
March 20  7.1

March 24  Midterm  - Chapters 1-6
March 27  7.2

March 31  7.3
April 3     8.1

April 7     8.2
April 10   8.3  Research Paper Draft due

April 14   9.1 and 9.2
April 17   9.3 and 9.4

April 21   10.1

April 24  10.2
April 26  GREAT Day
April 28   11.1 and 11.2

May 1   11.3
May 5   11.4 and Epilog 

May 8    review  Final research paper due

May 12 Final XM 3:30-6:00p