Mathematics in culture:
Math museums and popularization of numbers
The abstract entities of mathematics, situated far from the material reality, makes it difficult to grasp, understand or even to enthuse about the subject. When it comes to museums, natural history and science thus has far more advantage in presenting the newest and the oldest discoveries. It is easy to show and describe the phenomena of natural history or any other science that deals with physical objects and phenomena.
As Bertrand Russell once said regarding mathematic “one does not know what one is talking about, neither does one know whether what one is saying is true or not, or alternatively, one does not know what to talk about.”
This also makes it hard for the curators to set such an exhibit, where the unit is nor an object nor a phenomenon. The main purpose of the museums is not to teach, but rather to bring the visitor close to the subject at matter, and to inspire enthusiasm in the viewer. First such attempt happened in “Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie” in La Villette in Paris. An experimental mathematical space was created in the “Palais de la Découverte” during the 1980’s. “Horizons Mathématiques” were the first mathematical exhibits created in Orleans and Bourges and they were presented in more than 50 countries and 200 towns. In the 21st century, with the support of UNESCO, IMU, ICMI and EMS, the International Mathematical Union launched a programme on popularisation of mathematics with a concrete topic “Why Mathematics?” through implementation of traveling exhibition.
According to Wikipedia’s database there are 54 math museums and permanent exhibitions all around the world dedicated to the subject of mathematics today. And even more on the rise. Some of the finest examples of those institutions operate in France, Belgium and Italy.
During the 1996, Near Touluse, in France, the Fermat-Lomagne association was established to celebrate the proof that Andrew Wiles made on the Fermat’s last theorem. Shortly afterwards, the association opened the Fermat Science museum located in the birthplace of the 17th century French mathematician Pierre de Fermat. Museum hosts exhibitions, games, workshops and animations about History, Mathematics, Sciences and Pierre de Fermat´s work.
The Maison des Maths (House of Maths) was opened in 2015, in the city of Quaregnon as the first math museum in Belgium. The museum aims to involve students and undergraduates, as well as general public, through guided visits of concrete and experimental mathematics as well as history and people behind the science.
Mateureka is one of the biggest math museums in Italy. It is situated in Pennabilli in Rimini region where it strives to preserve the memory of inventions and ideas that have made the history of calculation and mathematics great. The exhibits are presented through innovative and interactive approach in laboratory rooms where visitors can learn and enthuse about mathematics through play.
Despite the hardships the mathematicians and math enthusiasts face when it comes to the popularisation of Mathematics and bringing the important topic closer to the viewer, it seems that the culture has finally come to realize its value. Nowadays, the world of mathematics has been involved in the human culture more than ever before through art, theatre, music, literature and cinema.
- Michele Emmer (ed), Mathematis and Culture I, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg (2004)
- Michele Emmer (ed), Imagine Math: Between Culture and Mathematics, Springer-Verlag Italia (2012)