Tag Archives: history

The Spectre of Maths Anxiety

What an anger-inducing report for a Monday morning. It is a good report, but the subject made me angry. Reading a full historical account of why there is such a thing as maths anxiety at all, and why it persists into the 21st century, and why it is especially more prevalent among women, is so depressing. Besides, I’m certain that things are better (or at least less bad) in countries other than the UK, especially in ex-state socialist education systems. The gender imbalance exists, but is far less horrible – and this is linked, I believe, with the far less rigid “class” structure of the societies. Also in places like Italy and Portugal. How come nobody bothers to look and steal the good ideas. 
The full report (very readable):
The Fear Factor: Maths Anxiety in girls and women, 2015, by Samantha Callan, a report commissioned by Maths Action.
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Ada Lovelace Documentary online

A very nice documentary about Ada Lovelace, presented by matheamatician Hannah Fry! On the BBC website, unfortunately only available until tomorrow 10pm:


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Women scientists in history

A scary timeline of female education: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_female_education

And some of the very few women scientists in the otherwise enlightened Europe:

Beatriz Galindo (1465?-1534), Spanish Latinist, writer, humanist and teacher of Queen Isabella of Castille and her children http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beatriz_Galindo

Juliana Morell (16 February 1594 – 26 June 1653) Spanish nun, first woman to receive a Doctor of Laws degree http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juliana_Morell

Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia (1646 – 1684)Venetian philosopher who also studied mathematics, first woman to receive a doctoral degree from a university (Padua) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elena_Cornaro_Piscopia

Laura Maria Caterina Bassi (1711 – 1778): the first woman in the world to earn a university chair in a scientific field of studies. The third woman to receive a PhD from a European university (Bologna, 1732). The first woman to earn an official teaching position, and the first female physics professor at a European university. In 1776, at the age of 65, Bassi was appointed to the chair in experimental physics by the Bologna Institute of Sciences, with her husband as a teaching assistant. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laura_Bassi

Maria Gaetana Agnesi (1718 – 1799). First woman to write a mathematics handbook and the first woman appointed as a Mathematics Professor at a University http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_Gaetana_Agnesi

Stefania Wolicka (1851 – after 1895) – polish historian. Not a mathematician, but the first woman to earn a PhD in the modern era http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stefania_Wolicka
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Why aren’t graduates called Spinsters of Arts/Sciences?

Reading a book* about higher education. Found an interesting quote in the historical background section. So this is why university graduates today are called BA/BSc (Bachelors of Arts/Sciences). Duh!

“…Next came the bachelors, who were advanced students and were allowed to lecture and dispute under supervision. They corresponded to and derived their names from the journeymen or bachelors, who worked for a daily wage and had not sufficient maturity to establish themselves in the trade. (Hence they were still unmarried). At the top of the profession was the master, a rank common to both universities and guilds. He was a man who had demonstrated both his skill and maturity to the satisfaction of his fellow masters. Entrance to this stage was gained after elaborate examinations, exercises in the techniques of teaching, and ceremonial investiture. Admission fell exclusively under the jurisdiction of the other full members of the university…. The three titles, master, doctor, professor, were in the Middle Ages absolutely synonymous.”

I am not the kind of feminist who would nitpick about terminology. I’m quite happy to keep words along with their historical baggage even if it’s a history of unequality (what history ISN’T a history of inequality?), as long as we are aware of what the baggage means. Much better than opening future gates to new inequalities by erasing all trace of nasty legacies today … So, I feel even better informed about the patriarchal basis of my education (and that of my ‘research subjects’. the mathematicians) now!

Burton R. Clark 1983, The Higher Education System: Academic Organization in Cross-national Perspective, P.47 citing Baldwin and Goldwaite, eds, Universities in Politics, pp.8, 19


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