Sunday, February 15, 2015

Multicultural Math: Benjamin Banneker

Today I thought I would start a new series of Multicultural Mathematics. I will share about the history of math from around the world and mathematicians from around the world. Since we are in Black History Month, I thought we would start with Benjamin Banneker. To learn a bit about Benjamin Banneker, we went tot he library.

Some of these books were appropriate for Hazel and some were for older children. I will be using them as resources for this post as well as Wikipedia. Benjamin Banneker was born on November 9, 1731to a free African American woman and a former African American male slave. His mother freed his father and then married him. He was born in Baltimore County, Maryland. They owned a farm. Benjamin had little formal education and was mostly self taught. His maternal grandmother taught him to read and he loved to read. She also encouraged his parents to send him to school when he was not needed for work on the farm.
By Charles Henry Alston, 1907-1977, Artist (NARA record: 3569253) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
At age 22, Benjamin Banneker completed the first wooden clock in America. He had borrowed a pocket watch from a friend and taken it apart and used it as a model. He used only a pocket knife as a tool and it chimed every hour. It kept accurate time for over 20 years. He used mathematics involving gears and the relationships of the sizes of gears to make the clock larger than the pocket watch. There are many websites with gear problems and explanations like SCHSM, Technology Student, and LEGO Education.
Benjamin Banneker
See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Benjamin became friendly with a white Quaker family, The Ellicotts, who built a mill nearby. He became good friends with George Ellicott. One of George's hobbies was astronomy. When George became too busy for astronomy, he gave Benjamin his telescope and astronomy books. Benjamin read all the books and began to study the star. He stayed up all night, taking a short nap in the afternoon so he could see the stars. He eventually became a good astronomer and write his own almanac. The first year he was too late to get it published in time, and he had issues from white publishers not wanting to publish the work of an African American. Abolitionist groups supported him and the next year he was able to publish his Almanac. He sent one to Thomas Jefferson with a note about the unfair treatment of African Americans in the country and his desire to change it.  Jefferson answered Benjamin's letter syaing he wanted to help make the change some day as well. Some math used in astronomy available on line can be found at NASA: Space Math, and Astronomy On-Line: Basic Mathematics.
By Related names:Klugh, T, transmitter 
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
George Ellicott was also a surveyor. Benjamin was a bit interested in surveying, so George loaned him some books and tools. Benjamin taught himself  how to survey. When Benjamin was almost 60 years old, Major Andrew Ellicott IV was picked by his cousin, President George Washington to survey the land that would become the new capital of the United States, Washington, D.C. Andrew wanted George's help, but George was too busy with other jobs and suggested Benjamin. Benjamin was hired for the job.  President Washington, who was a surveyor, visited the area the work was being done. Some say that Washington and Benjamin met and talked about surveying. There are some examples of math used by surveyors on-line like this list of topics on XP Math, The University of Georgia offers Land Surveying  by Karen Carson (with examples like I used in high school math classes) and many pdf files can be downloaded if you Google surveying math problems.

In the final years of  Benjamin's life he was making enough money by writing that he didn't have to farm anymore. He sold off much of his land, but still kept bees for the honey. On October 25, 1806 Benjamin died going for a walk. During his funeral his cabin caught fire and his clock burned with everything else in the cabin.

I hope you enjoyed this Multicultural Mathematics Post. Next month we will look at female mathematicians! 

Last week I posted on Mahalia Jackson for Multicultural Kid Blogs Black History Month Series and Giveaway. The series began February 2nd and the giveaway is open. I will be sharing this post at the link party there as well. Please check it out!! There are some amazing prizes!!
For more posts about Black History check out: