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(1) My history of maths and history of science lectures email list

Since we are completely on-line this year, all communications have to be through email.

This email list is for all those who are taking my history of maths, history of science for mathmos, or any other lectures of mine. If you are going to attend any of my lectures please sign up to the email list. This way I can spam you with reminders about the lectures, useful announcements and – most important – warning of lectures cancelled, delayed, or time changes. Those who are already subscribed to my email list will tell you that they are very … um … useful. For some definition of useful.

You can sign up by going to and searching for maths-history-lectures. You can, obviously, also unsubscribe at the same site.

(2) Cambridge lectures, academic year 2020-2021

(2.1) History of mathematics lectures, Wed, Fri, 4 pm

Zoom link (Meeting ID: 995 5590 1198 Passcode 198489)

Links to course materials, handouts, and anything else like that will be collected here.

This is a fairly relaxed overview of the history of mathematical ideas, from (western) ancient civilisations to the Enlightenment; a separate set of lectures (inevitably a little bit more technical) are occasionally given in Easter Term on some aspects of 19th century mathematics.

The course presumes no particular or strong mathematical background (but I do assume most of the students are mathmos or equivalent), and is more about mathematical ideas and styles, and the historical influences on, and influences of mathematics on its contemporary world. A good sense of humour is required. The lectures are given live over Zoom, and will be recorded (and edited). The traditional requirement that students bring food and drink to my lectures is maintained for Zoom lectures, but now pets are also allowed. And if you can find WiFi outside, you can even smoke during lectures.

(2.2) History of science for mathmos (Science and early Islam) lectures, Thurs 4pm

Zoom link (Meeting ID: 977 6252 6760 Passcode: 146157)

Links to course materials, handouts, and anything else like that will be collected here.

This is a course on the origins and context of Islam, how it formed and expanded, and why a couple of centuries after it began Muslim thinkers developed a powerful interest in rigorous rationalism, science, mathematics, and scientific medicine. I will trace this development through Al-Andalus and its influence on the Latin Middle Ages, and how Islamic philosophical, theological, technical, and scientific thinking influenced subsequent European development and sciences. The lectures are given live on Zoom, and will be recorded and edited.

This is part of a three-year cycle of lectures on history of science for mathmos:

So next year will be Ancient Science, and so on. These lectures are also non-technical, and not presume much historical background; however I will assume that most of the students are mathmos. I will cover a range of topics of interest over the periods indicated; mostly natural philosophy and the hard sciences, but some forays into other issues relevant to or influential on past contemporary science.

(2.3) Extra lectures on Mondays: History of medicine, Mon 4pm

Zoom link (Meeting ID: 937 8809 3341 Passcode: 559988)

Links to course materials, handouts, and anything else like that will be collected here.

Just in case you are at a loss for anything to do at tea-time on Mondays, I have frequently offered some lectures (4, 8, 16 … so far no higher powers of two) of a more serious kind, at least serious on the Bursill-Hall Scale of Lecture Seriosity, expanding on details of the history of science or history of maths. These have included lectures on Ancient technology, Plato and Aristotle, and Galileo, and may yet include a lecture series on medieval science and technology, Descartes (as scientist, not philosopher), Newton, Enlightenment sciences, history of medicine (for non-medics), or something on the Industrial Revolution.

Lectures will be on Zoom, as usual, at 4 pm, obviously, and recorded.

(3) Other lectures

The Galileo Affair

I gave two lectures on Galileo and the Church (The Galileo affair: science & religion, history & politics – deceitful bedfellows) for the Mercantile Library of Cincinnati on Thursday October 8 and Thursday October 15 (UK time); more here.

You need to register with their system to get to the recorded lectures, so register here .

A Pact with Reason

I gave a 10 lecture series at the Mercantile Library in July-September 2020 on Pact with Reason: we are where we are because western civilisation made a pact with reason. A story of western societies as based on scientific knowledge and the primacy of reason. More here. The political relevance of arguing - in the summer of 2020 - that the idea that reason (and therefore science) has social and political authority is one of the defining characteristics of western civilisation is probably not hard to discern.

You can see these lectures online from here, where I think you can register and see the recorded lectures. There will eventually be a complete set of notes to these lectures.

And finally …

Here is a fairly dated set of notes for my history of mathematics lectures ( machines only).
Here are some notes I have on mathematics and historiography which those taking my history of maths course might find worth reading.
Here is a pdf version of the lecture I gave at the opening day of the Faulkes Institute of Geometry (which is Pavilion E of the CMS), 1 May 2002, on Why do we study geometry? Answers through the ages.

Piers Bursill-Hall
Department of Pure Mathematics
Centre for Mathematical Sciences,
University of Cambridge
Wilberforce Road,
Cambridge CB3 0WB England

messages: 01223 337999
office phone:01223 337923
email: piers at