(Re)mediating Math Anxieties With The Narrative, the Ephemeral, and the Visual, 1830-1930
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(Re)mediating Math Anxieties With The Narrative, the Ephemeral, and the Visual, 1830-1930

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(Re)mediating Math Anxieties with The Narrative, the Ephemeral, and the Visual, 1830-1930, unravels the intricate web of connections between the narrative, the material, and the affective conditions of mathematical discovery. Over the course of the century, student-centered pedagogies replaced rote memorization, leading to mass literacy and numeracy. New tools combined natural and mathematical language to ease anxiety and facilitate discovery. Beginning with Fredrich Froebel’s use of ephemera and quotidian objects, and expanding globally, pedagogues used illustrations, familiar narratives, paper, thread, and wooden blocks, to engage the learner. Activities such as paper folding and curve stitching captivated the discoverer’s visual and tactile senses, prompting them to narrate those sensory experiences as mathematical findings. For example, a parabolic trajectory is more intuitive when throwing a toy in the air and seeing how it falls. This trajectory helps learners visualize a traditional narrative arc, linking natural language to mathematical language. Newspapers and magazines regularly contained illustrative puzzles that fostered literacy and numeracy by yoking them to stories. Serialized fiction represented frustrations and breakthroughs that learners faced in the mathematical discovery process. Taken together, the sensual and cultural experience of mathematics dismantles its putative objectivity and status as a medium of scientific knowledge. Mathematics, instead, is an active form of literacy that engages with our material and social practices. The same publications that taught mathematical concepts reflected antipathetic cultural attitudes to learning math. Literary representations consistently portrayed mathematicians as villains. Novels and stories encourage readers to express frustrations with math that stem from gendered and classed preconceptions. Charles Dickens’s Hard Times, Charles Kingsley’s Hypatia, and George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession portray successful female mathematicians as gender deviant: cold and calculating, and incapable of true happiness. When literary and visual modernism emerges, mathematics is used as a tool for formal experimentation, which reflects new positive attitudes toward mathematics and culture. For instance, James Joyce utilizes mathematical errors in the “Ithaca” chapter of Ulysses to emphasize the art of mathematical discovery over computed results. Acknowledging such cultural contexts of mathematics overturns the conventional notion of mathematical objectivity in science and technology studies.

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This item is under embargo until June 10, 2027.