A Cultural History
by Robert Kiely
August 2022, 350pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, ABC-CLIO

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-6933-4
$83, £64, 73€, A114
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-6934-1
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

Today’s mathematics is the result of thousands of years of influence from politics, philosophy, religion, cross-cultural exchange, and other social factors.

Numbers: A Cultural History provides students with a compelling interdisciplinary view of the development of mathematics and its relationship to world cultures over 4,500 years of human history.

Mathematics is often referred to as a “universal language,” and that is a fitting description. Many cultures have contributed to mathematics in fascinating ways, but despite its “universal” character, mathematics is also a human endeavor. It has played pivotal roles in societies at particular times; and it has influenced, and been influenced by, a wide range of ideas and institutions, from commerce to philosophy. Ancient Egyptian views of mathematics, for example, are tied closely to engineering and agriculture. Some European Renaissance views, on the other hand, relate the study of number to that of the natural world.

Numbers, A Cultural History seeks to place the history of mathematics into a broad cultural context. While it treats mathematical material in detail, it also relates that material to other subject matter: science, philosophy, navigation, commerce, religion, art, and architecture. It examines how mathematical thinking grows in specific cultural settings and how it has shaped those settings in turn. It also explores the movement of ideas between cultures and the evolution of modern mathematics and the quantitative, data-driven world in which we live.


  • Presents mathematics as a human endeavor, a product of human inquiry and human society
  • Provides readers with a cumulative history of mathematics that draws on global cultures over time
  • Places mathematics in multiple cultural contexts and demonstrates its relationship with other areas of thought
  • Demonstrates the link between mathematical knowledge and such practical endeavors as timekeeping, navigation, and commerce
  • Illustrates the movement of ideas between cultures and the complexity of intellectual history
  • Explores the complex relationship between mathematics and technology over time and cultural space
Robert Kiely, PhD, teaches the history of ideas in the Liberal Arts Department of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His awards include an Outstanding Teaching Award from Northwestern University, Faculty of the Year Award from the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, and the Sun Hing Lim Teacher Award from the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. He earned his doctorate at Northwestern University, where he studied the history of ideas and the history of science.
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