How to Read Historical Mathematics

Writings by early mathematicians feature language and notations that are quite different from what we’re familiar with today. Sourcebooks on the history of mathematics provide some guidance, but what has been lacking is a guide tailored to the needs of readers approaching these writings for the first time. How to Read Historical Mathematics fills this gap by introducing readers to the analytical questions historians ask when deciphering historical texts.

Sampling actual writings from the history of mathematics, Benjamin Wardhaugh reveals the questions that will unlock the meaning and significance of a given text – Who wrote it, why, and for whom? What was its author’s intended meaning? How did it reach its present form? Is it original or a translation? Why is it important today? Wardhaugh teaches readers to think about what the original text might have looked like, to consider where and when it was written, and to formulate questions of their own. Readers pick up new skills with each chapter, and gain the confidence and analytical sophistication needed to tackle virtually any text in the history of mathematics.

  • Introduces readers to the methods of textual analysis used by historians
  • Uses actual source material as examples
  • Features boxed summaries, discussion questions, and suggestions for further reading
  • Supplements all major sourcebooks in mathematics history Designed for easy reference
  • Ideal for students and teachers

How to Read Historical Mathematics is published by Princeton University Press.


‘Anyone interested in the history of mathematics should start here, especially those who teach history of mathematics courses. The text is refreshing, relevant, and surprisingly interesting. A great read!’ Choice

‘[This book] is well written, readable, and straightforward. … It should be read by anyone who is using original source material to study the history of mathematics.’ David Ebert, Mathematics Teacher

‘This is an extraordinary book for anyone interested in the history of mathematics. The author notes in the preface that reading historical mathematics can be fascinating, challenging, enriching, and endlessly rewarding. He then proceeds to illustrate how to analyze and get the most out of original source material.’ Jim Tattersall, MAA Reviews

‘What Wardhaugh does exceptionally well is to break the ice for readers interested in the subject. He does this largely by training readers to ask insightful questions when they read a historical text.’ Sol Lederman, Wild About Math

How to Read Historical Mathematicsis filled with worthwhile advice to historians of mathematics and potential historians of mathematics. Wardhaugh’ s book should be readily available and kept with your personal reference books. It should also be in your school library.’ Donald Cook, Mathematical Reviews

‘[A] splendid introduction to what to look for and to think about when reading historical source material in mathematics. … This volume provides much food for thought in relatively few pages, yet in a pleasantly relaxed manner.’ Leon Harkleroad, Zentralblatt MATH

How to Read Historical Mathematicsis more than a useful aid to students being introduced to the field: it is a practical field guide to a whole new way of doing the history of mathematics. I warmly recommend it.’ Amir Alexander, British Journal for the History of Science

‘a student … could hardly do better for guidance than to read this short and splendid book. … almost as many ideas and surprising pieces of information as the number of sentences.’ Paul Hudson, The Mathematical Gazette