History of Fractions
Date: 12/7/95 at 9:30:11 From: Anonymous Subject: History of Fractions I have several math classes coming to our school media center next week to research the history of fractions. The problem is, our media center does not have the right resources to help students with their assignment. They are trying to find out how fractions developed and how they have been used in history. For example, how did the Babylonians, Ancient Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks, or Hindus use fractions? How were fractions written? Which operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division), if any, could be carried out with fractions? How did they expand the use of fractions? We have a few books that cover what the numerals of these societies looked like, but nothing about the history of fractions in ancient cultures. Our public library and our district high school library didn't have anything either. Your help is greatly appreciated!
Date: 3/8/96 at 23:45:47 From: Doctor Jodi Subject: Re: History of Fractions Hi there! If you have access to a web browser, you'll find a detailed description of the Babylonian and Egyptian mathematical system, including some discussion of fractions, at http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/HistTopics/Babylonian_and_Egyptian.html Briefly, the Babylonians used base 60, rather than base 10. Their fractional system survives in the hours minutes and seconds notation we still use. The Chinese system is described at http://aleph0.clarku.edu:80/~djoyce/mathhist/china.html Briefly, the Chinese used a symbol for the numbers 1-10, 100, 1000, and 10000. 2034 would be written 2, 1000, 3, 10, 4 (2 * 1000 + 3*10 +4) Small bamboo counting rods were used for calculations. Positions from left to right gave place value. Fractions, as far as I can tell from this description, were like ours. You might find a better description in the original sources, Development of Mathematics in China and Japan (Mikami) and Chinese Mathematics, A Concise History (Li Yan and DuShiran). Some of the resources from the bibliography at http://aleph0.clarku.edu:80/~djoyce/mathhist/numerals.html may also be useful. From my understanding of Greek mathematical history, I gather that Greeks emphasized the use of ratios. Euclid's ELEMENTS contains a book just on ratios and several others which depend heavily upon it. You may be particularly interested in exploring the golden ratio. I hope this will give you the information you're looking for. If you'd like more references or don't have access to a web browser, please mail us again. Thanks for your question! -Doctor Jodi, The Math Forum
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