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Journal Article

The Skeleton in the Closet: Should Historians of Science Care about the History of Mathematics?

Amir Alexander
Vol. 102, No. 3 (September 2011), pp. 475-480
DOI: 10.1086/661620
Stable URL:
Page Count: 6
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ABSTRACTUp until the 1950s, the history of mathematics was an integral part of the history of science. To George Sarton and his contemporaries, mathematics was the rational skeleton that organized science and held it together, and its history was a fundamental component of the broader history of science. But when historians began focusing on the cultural roots of science rather than its rational structure, the study of mathematics was marginalized and ultimately excluded from the history of science. The alienation between the two fields is detrimental to both, and in recent years there has been a sustained effort to reestablish meaningful communication between the two. This time, however, mathematics is seen not as the static skeleton of science but, instead, as a dynamic and historically evolving field in its own right—just like science itself. The new approach allows for a culturally sensitive study of mathematics, as well as a new and fruitful relationship between the history of science and the history of mathematics. The essays in this Focus section offer a sampling of the new approaches, opening the way to a rapprochement between fields that have gone their separate ways but should by rights be closely interconnected.