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Friday, November 16, 2018

Math needs more stories | Blog - American Mathematical Society

Photo: Beth Malmskog
Math needs more stories. All kinds of stories: about where ideas come from and what they mean; about the people who do math–how, why, and where they came from; about the beautiful and messed up parts of the community, and how these are and are not changing, says Beth Malmskog, Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Colorado College.

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Stories are the connective tissue of a body of ideas, essential to making these many theorems into a community. The kinds of stories we hear and the people who tell them influence how we imagine and understand this community, and ourselves in relation to it. 

That’s why math needs more stories–because so many of the stories we hear come from voices and are about people similar to those that have been dominant in math for hundreds of years. If we want a broader, fairer, more inclusive mathematics, we need to make a point to hear everyone’s stories.

In some ways, stories are the whole point of this blog–we share our stories as early career mathematicians to connect with others who are, will be, or were early career mathematicians themselves.  However, I confess that I’m more interested in other people’s stories than my own.  In one part of my dream life I would be a sort of mathy Studs Terkel, interviewing people about their lives and their reflections on mathematics.  I probably need to get tenure before I can start spending too much time on that. Luckily, there are other people out there doing a great job of gathering stories.  You may have gotten the same email I did from the AMS yesterday about two new books of stories about mathematicians: Limitless Minds: Interviews with Mathematicians, by Anthony Bonato, and Mathematicians: An Outer View of the Inner World, by Mariana Cook.  These look great, and I just impulse bought them (when I’m going to have time to read them, who knows).  Probably the right choice would have been to ask my library to buy them so that everyone at my institution could read them… okay, now that I think about it, I will probably do that after I get done writing this blog.
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Source: American Mathematical Society