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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Hypatia Multicultural Mathematics in Women's History Month


This week I thought I would share with you one of the first known women mathematicians as part of the Multicultural Kid Blogs' Women's History Month Series and my Multicultural Mathematics. Be sure to visit the  main page of the Women's History Month Series to see all of the posts and link up your own!

http://multiculturalkidblogs.com/womens-history-month-series/



Hypatia portrait
By Drawn by Jules Maurice Gaspard (1862–1919) 
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Hypatia of Alexandria was born between 350 and 370 A.D. Her father was Theon of Alexandria. They were Greek, but lived in Egypt, which was part of the Byzantine Empire. Although during that time girls were not usually educated in reading and writing, her father decided to teach Hypatia everything he knew. He was a professor at the university. Hypatia became a mathematician, astronomer and philosopher. She began to lecture and teach. 
Ancientlibraryalex
The Great Library of Alexandria By O. Von Corven [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Alexandria, Egypt was the center of learning at the time of Hypatia's birth. In 300 B.C. Ptolemy I built the Great Library of Alexandria with one of its buildings called the Museum, a dedication to the Greek goddesses of art, culture and science, the Muses. Ptolemy I wanted Alexandria to be the cultural and intellectual capital of the world. It was in the Museum that Hypatia most likely spent her childhood learning and it is here that both she and her father worked. Theon was sometimes referred to as president of the Museum. He was known for his scientific thought. He edited Euclid's Elements to make it more understandable to average people. (For those that do not know most conventional school geometry classes are based on Euclid's Elements.)
Alfred Seifert Hypatia
Hypatia By Alfred Seifert (1850-1901) (Bonhams) 
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
As a young adult Hypatia had learned all she could from her father and began her own research of classical mathematical texts. Hypatia worked with her father on his commentaries and revisions of old mathematical texts. Their revisions helped students better understand the texts and a footnote in one said the it had been revised completely by his daughter. Hypatia's interested differed from her father's. She focused more on the scientific things that could be seen. She is also said to have some water inventions and helped with other inventions. She taught in a format that involved questions and answers and discussions with her pupils. She taught people from Alexandria as well as people from elsewhere. Some traveled far to hear Hypatia. She eventually became the head of the Platonist school in Alexandria. In a time when there were some women educated and giving lectures, it appears Hypatia was the most beloved and famous. She is often known as the first female mathematician (although there were some prior but little is really known about them). One thing that is accepted as known is that Hypatia helped wrote commentary on On the Conics of Apollonius. With this knowledge, I will introduce conic sections quickly and provide links for more information.
Conic sections 2
Duk at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], from Wikimedia Commons

Conic sections are the shapes one gets from cutting a double-napped cone by various planes. As seen in the illustration above four shapes are possible: parabola, circle, ellipse and hyperbola. Often in Algebra 2 or Precalculus conic sections are studied with their equations and then applied to real life. I always found it useful to give students a note outline for all four conic sections which can be useful when studying for the exam and trying to learn the equations and characteristics. The note page and its answer page are available for personal or classroom use. Please do not publish it on your own site, but send people here to get theirs. For more on conic sections check out, NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics), Cool Math and She Loves Math. For some examples of real life applications check out: Stack Exchange, Purple Math, Jim Britton's Website, Prezi Presentation, Prezi Presentation 2, and Boundless.
Mort de la philosophe Hypatie
The Murder of Hypatia, See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Now Hypatia lived when there was great social change and religious uproar. The Romans took over Alexandria and they no longer considered the library and museum important. The leaders felt threatened by the large group of followers that came to Hypatia's home for meetings and lessons. Local leaders of both Christian and Jewish religions felt Hypatia's teachings (and all science) contradicted their religions and did not want people to learn about them. In 415 A.D. Hypatia's chariot was surrounded by an angry mob and she was pulled out of it and killed. Her clothes had been ripped off of her and then her body was cut into pieces and burned. 

Sources for this post:
  1. Wikipedia 
  2. Redshift 
  3. Donovan, Sandy. Hypatia: Mathematician, Inventor, and Philosopher, Compass Point Press 1967.
  4. Bradley, Michael J. Ph.D., The Birth of Mathematics: Ancient times to 1300, Chelsea House Publishers 2006.

Now to introduce Hypatia to Hazel (who is six), I found a picture book. I was very happy to be able to read a book to Hazel about a female mathematician. Unfortunately there are not too many around about any of the others. We read Of Numbers and Stars: The Story of Hypatia by D. Anne Love and illustrated by Pam Paparone. We borrowed it from our library. This book gave a brief introduction to Hypatia with much of the story romanticized for young children. It was a good introduction and I am just happy there is a picture book out there about a female mathematician.

For older students there is Hypatia: Mathematician, Inventor, and Philosopher by Sandy Donovan. I borrowed this book from the library as well. It is from the Young Adult section and is written in chapters. It is part of the Signature Lives series. I also used it as a source for my post. Other books that can be used for information on Hypatia as well as other female mathematicians that I found at our library are the following.

For more Multicultural Math and Women's History Posts check out: