Friday, March 22, 2019

The Act of "doing" History by Christopher Havens

In making mathematics (finding new theorems and proving them), a feeling unlike any other occurs. Before any mathematical discovery, I'm unsure of myself. I am my own most significant obstacle. But after some contemplation, after some speck of dust floats in the path of your vision in just such a way as to trigger some unforseen idea, discovery happens. In my case, I've only known small discoveries. So I can only speak for myself when I say that mathematical discovery sends adrenaline coursing through my veins. I experience bliss, peace, several more questions than I previously had on the topic. But making math defines purpose for myself in prison. The closest thing I've ever experienced that compares with this feeling is the feeling of being in love. I know.. it sounds strange. 

One of the facets of doing mathematics involves learning about its history. Back when I studied calculus, I committed two hours each day either reading on its history or learning how the ideas were developed in a historical context. Even in the research we do, when we write a paper, it's nice to tell the reader a little about the evolution of the math involved. We even track down the history of math for the purpose of giving credit where it's due. This is a light history. I don't think it would be accurate to say that the history I've studied in the past was "doing" history. Moreso, it was a quality study.. a brief encounter with the line that separates (or joins) the mathematics and the history of the subject. In no way do I claim to be a historian of mathematics. I do however, in one of my advanced states of "foot-in-mouth", find myself for the first time, to be doing history. 

I have never experienced a big failure in the mapping of history as of yet, so I don't know what it looks like, nor can I perceive the sensation. I can't even say yet that I've experienced success. On the other hand, in not knowing exactly how a historian peels back the layers of time to find the seeds of great events, I've been subject to my own divices.. the result has been, to say the least, an adventure. ...The next bit of writing will describe this adventure.

Christopher Havens

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