What We Are Reading Today: Mathematics in Ancient Egypt by Annette Imhausen

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Updated 14 October 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Mathematics in Ancient Egypt by Annette Imhausen

Mathematics in Ancient Egypt traces the development of Egyptian mathematics, from the end of the fourth millennium BC—and the earliest hints of writing and number notation—to the end of the pharaonic period in Greco-Roman times. 

Drawing from mathematical texts, architectural drawings, administrative documents, and other sources, Annette Imhausen surveys three thousand years of Egyptian history to present an integrated picture of theoretical mathematics in relation to the daily practices of Egyptian life and social structures.

Imhausen shows that from the earliest beginnings, pharaonic civilization used numerical techniques to efficiently control and use their material resources and labor. Even during the Old Kingdom, a variety of metrological systems had already been devised. By the Middle Kingdom, procedures had been established to teach mathematical techniques to scribes in order to make them proficient administrators for their king.

Imhausen looks at counterparts to the notation of zero, suggests an explanation for the evolution of unit fractions, and analyzes concepts of arithmetic techniques. She draws connections and comparisons to Mesopotamian mathematics, examines which individuals in Egyptian society held mathematical knowledge, and considers which scribes were trained in mathematical ideas and why.

Of interest to historians of mathematics, mathematicians, Egyptologists, and all those curious about Egyptian culture, Mathematics in Ancient Egypt sheds new light on a civilization’s unique mathematical evolution.


What We Are Reading Today: Gentlemen Revolutionaries by Tom Cutterham

Updated 20 October 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Gentlemen Revolutionaries by Tom Cutterham

In the years between the Revolutionary War and the drafting of the Constitution, American gentlemen—the merchants, lawyers, planters, and landowners who comprised the independent republic’s elite—worked hard to maintain their positions of power. Gentlemen Revolutionaries shows how their struggles over status, hierarchy, property, and control shaped the ideologies and institutions of the fledgling nation.

Tom Cutterham examines how, facing pressure from populist movements as well as the threat of foreign empires, these gentlemen argued among themselves to find new ways of justifying economic and political inequality in a republican society. At the heart of their ideology was a regime of property and contract rights derived from the norms of international commerce and 18th-century jurisprudence. But these gentlemen were not concerned with property alone. They also sought personal prestige and cultural preeminence. Cutterham describes how, painting the egalitarian freedom of the republic’s “lower sort” as dangerous licentiousness, they constructed a vision of proper social order around their own fantasies of power and justice.

 In pamphlets, speeches, letters, and poetry, they argued that the survival of the republican experiment in the US depended on the leadership of worthy gentlemen and the obedience of everyone else.

Lively and elegantly written, Gentlemen Revolutionaries demonstrates how these elites, far from giving up their attachment to gentility and privilege, recast the new republic in their own image.