Philadelphia Area Seminar on the History of Mathematics (PASHoM)

This is a seminar of faculty from colleges and universities in the Philadelphia area who share an interest in the history of mathematics, and via Zoom also includes some remote participants. The seminar meets monthly during the academic year, usually  at 6:00 p.m. on a Thursday evening at Villanova University for a light meal (donation $10.00), conversation and a presentation when in-person meetings are possible, but at 6:30-8:00pm via Zoom otherwise. The presentation is usually one hour long starting at 6:30pm and then is followed by open discussion for up to 30 minutes.

This group was established in January 2001 for persons in the greater Philadelphia area to:

and it currently directed by Alan Gluchoff.

To add your name to our emailing list,  send information to Zoom links are sent via email from Alan in response to requests.

Click here for directions to Villanova University.


Driving: Villanova University is located on route 30, Lancaster Avenue, just east of I-476. Set your GPS to
                800 Lancaster Ave, Villanova, PA 19085

Parking: [map, FAQ]
If you drive to the meeting, you may park on the Ithan Avenue I-1 parking garage at the intersection of Lancaster and Ithan Avenues free for 1 hour and then for a low hourly fee after that.

To enter Villanova by the main gate on Ithan Avenue and park in the multilevel M-2 parking garage adjacent to the in-person meeting location of St. Augustine Center, you must fill out an electronic form requested from Alan by email.

Public transportation: Take SEPTA's Paoli - Thorndale train to the Villanova station. If outbound from center city go down through the tunnel to the inbound side. From the inbound platform a few steps lead to a parking lot behind  Mendel. Proceed left to the  next building to the east, St. Augustine Center. 

The in-person meeting location once they resume will be announced. You can get in touch with Alan at his office phone 610-905-1376 if you need help.

PASHoM events

Some recent talks to give a flavor of the group [see archives for additional links to talk materials]:

2023 Spring

January 19, 2023 Maryam Vulis, St John's University, Norwalk Community College and CCNY:
Ukrainian Mathematicians in the Soviet Ukraine

Our presentation will discuss the work and life of two Ukrainian mathematicians who lived in worked in the Soviet Ukraine - Mykhaylo Kravchuk and Nina Virchenko. The mathematician Mykhaylo Kravchuk was an important part of Ukrainian mathematics who dedicated his life to promoting Ukrainian culture and education. He was a member of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences and in fact, his two-volume publication on differential equations was translated into English by the computer pioneer John Atanasoff who found Kravchuk’s results for his computer construction. Kravchuk was well-known in international circles, and perhaps it cost him his life as he met the fate of many members of intelligentsia. One must mention Nina Virchenko, a mathematics researcher and a follower of Kravchuk. She was also persecuted by Soviets, amazingly survived incarceration in a camp, and continued for decades to work on mathematics and to promote the achievements of Kravchuk. Naturally, the recognition of the Ukrainian mathematicians’ achievements came with Ukrainian gaining independence in 1991.  

2022 Fall

December 8, 2022 Amy Ackerberg-Hastings, Independent Scholar, Editorial Staff of Convergence, MAA:
HoM Toolbox: Historiography and Methodology for Mathematicians

I have been contemplating creating an article series for MAA Convergence that introduces historiography and methodology in ways that are accessible to undergraduate mathematics students and instructors. The current plan is to begin with an overview of the principles for researching and writing history by considering five questions: 1) What is history? Why should readers want to research and write it well? 2) How do we know about the past? 3) How do we create history based on what we know about the past? 4) What is the history of the history of mathematics? 5) How can readers articulate their own philosophies of the history of mathematics?

Then, subsequent installments could provide brief explanations of various approaches to historical interpretation, accompanied by examples of how these approaches have been applied in the history of mathematics—for instance, I might discuss book history and how I have used that method to make sense of the activities and significance of two 18th-century Scottish mathematicians, Robert Simson (1687–1768) and John Playfair (1748–1819). The talk will give an update on my progress with the project and solicit feedback on the two-pronged problem posed by the series concept: a) How can current historians of mathematics best train the next generation for the profession? and b) What do most mathematics instructors and students need to know about the theory and practice of history?  

November 17, 2922 Ximena Catepillan, Professor Emeritus, Millersville University:
Maya Calendar Computations

The civilization of the Maya, which began ca. 1200 BC, had a long history generally divided into three periods: The Pre-Classic period ca. 1200BC - 200AD, the Classic period 200AD - 900AD, and the Post-Classic period 900AD - 519AD. The Maya civilization extended from what it is now Belize, Central and Southern Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and parts of Honduras. About thirty Mayan languages are still spoken in the above-mentioned regions, with a modern Maya population of about 5 million. The Maya developed a glyph writing system, vigesimal and quasi-vigesimal number systems, and they mastered several areas of science, art, and architecture. Based on astronomical observations, the Maya created an elaborate system of calendars. In this talk, their number systems will be discussed, and algorithms for converting among the calendars that are simple enough to do with paper and pencil will be presented. This presentation will be available for incorporating ethnomathematics into mathematics courses and ethnomathematics focused courses. 

October 20, 2022 Tom Archibald, Department of Mathematics, Simon Fraser University:
Justifying abstraction? Examples from Integration Theory to 1940

Making sense of mid-twentieth century abstraction posed problems for both new and ongoing practitioners. To historicize aspects of processes of generalization and abstraction can be tricky as it is easy to be anachronistic. Hilbert's Grundlagen der Geometrie, for example, indicates the recognition of several possible positions on the nature of axioms, for example as ``self-evident'', as idealizations of experience, or as rules. Since the axioms interact with definitions, this variation in ideas about axioms is accompanied by different ideas about definitions, ranging from definitions as descriptions to definitions as prescriptions. Description, though, is an equivocal term, since one can be describing an object one thinks of as existing, or as one that we are in a sense designing.

Historical questions arise: in what ways, and in what terms, do researchers attempt to justify their particular approaches to abstraction and generalization? How do these justifications function? In the first half of the 20th c. they were not merely conventional in my view. In what follows, we discuss some research papers and look at explicit or implicit efforts to explain the value of the approach. Such justifications are so familiar now from textbook and other writing that they are easy to overlook.These various ways of justifying one's approach serve as a kind of guide to how the main models of innovation in twentieth century mathematics became standard. We look in particular at a set of examples around the ``Lebesgue-Nikodym'' Decomposition theorem in analysis.  

September 15, 2022 Karen Parshall, Commonwealth Professor of History and Mathematics, University of Virginia:
American Mathematicians and World War II

When the United States entered World War II in December 1941, America’s mathematicians had already been bracing themselves for war. This talk will examine the various venues in which they contributed to the war effort and indicate the sorts of contributions they made.  

Archived Past Events are here.