The Story of Maths (TM190)

This is a peculiar little course in many ways being a mix of history and maths, but interesting throughout.

It’s based around the TV series The Story of Maths that the BBC put out a few years ago along with the accompanying book. Both these are tied together with the course guide that’s entirely online these days. Well, it calls itself a course guide but in reality it is the maths portion of the course as it goes through the detail of the various mathematical techniques from counting in ancient Egypt to the developments in the late 20th century. The explanations begin quite detailed but as it approaches the end of the 20th century, the detail drops away in line with the increasing complexity and so it’s more of a story of arithmetic rather than a complete story of maths.

The TV series itself becomes a little peculiar towards the end too. It starts off by visiting the various spots where the mathematical techniques were developed so they’re off to Egypt and Babylon in the early segments but carrying that approach on through to late 20th century maths means that it ends up going to visit the childhood homes of various mathematicians and has one very strange segment where the presenter tries to track down a particularly reclusive Russian mathematician. Some of the maths is touched on but you’d need either the course guide or the book to follow it and the series is more to set the historical background.

The assessment of the maths is via two online multiple choice assignments which have questions ranging from Egyptian counting through to questions covering parts of more recent mathematics. Although there are a few multiple choice historical questions in the online quizzes, the main assessment of the history is via two short essays written at the end of the course.

The book seems to be mainly there as support for the historical side of things and in particular for the essays at the end of the course so I’ve not used that yet as it’s been the maths that I’ve been working on mainly.

Quite a nice little course that neatly integrates the maths and the history so it’s a shame that this is another one of the Open University courses that’s dying this year.

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