The History of Calculating with Mechanical Devices

Today, advanced mathematics can hardly be performed without computers, and many students prefer to do basic mathematics with electronic assistance.  And yet, calculators and computer software have only existed for a few decades, whereas the field of mathematics stretches to prehistory.  How then, did early mathematicians—from ancient Babylonians to Newton and Euler—do math?  My project is an investigation into the mechanical calculating devices used through time and across cultures, such as tally sticks, the abacus, the exchequer, Arabic dust boards, and Napier’s Bones.  In the capstone paper, I will discuss devices used in African, Asian, Middle Eastern, and European mathematics chronologically within each geographic domain.

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