Current HiMEd Lecturers

Current HiMEd Lecturers

The BSHM has appointed two HiMEd Lecturers for 2021–22: Michael Barany and Ciarán Mac an Bhaird.

Michael Barany 

Photograph of a man in a checked shirt standing next to a blackboard with chalked diagrams.

Michael J. Barany grew up in a family of scientists in Minnesota, USA, where he learned to love both mathematics and its communities and cultures. This latter side eventually took precedence for his research and career, currently as a lecturer in the history of science at the University of Edinburgh, where he works on topics including globalization and communication in modern mathematics. He believes history of mathematics, like mathematics itself, is best when engaged with today’s society and culture: he regularly writes for public audiences and uses history to contribute to debates about algorithms in society, racism and sexism in the mathematics profession, and other topical challenges.

Topics

With the HiMEd Award, Barany plans to deliver workshops and resources on themes including:

  • what the first English textbook lesson on long division tells us about algorithms, calculation, society, and our minds
  • how historical debates about ‘the smallest thing’ show the connections between the most abstract mathematics and technology and society
  • why blackboards became iconic in maths education and what this says about maths and education in the modern world
  • how the question of ‘what time period are we in?’ can inform the goals and values of maths education.

These will be most suitable for middle-grade and secondary school student and teacher audiences. Please be in touch via M.Barany@ed.ac.uk about these or any other ideas for engaging the history of mathematics in your school.

Ciarán Mac an Bhaird

Photograph of a man wearing a navy suit gesturing while delivering a talk.

Ciarán Mac an Bhaird grew up on a small farm in Co. Monaghan, close to the border with Northern Ireland. He completed his undergraduate degree in Nua-Ghaeilge (Irish) and Mathematics, and then his Masters and PhD in Mathematics at Maynooth University. He was appointed Manager, later Director, of the Mathematics Support Centre and Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at Maynooth University in 2007. He has lectured the History of Mathematics module since 2014. He has received multiple local, national and international awards in recognition of his teaching and support of students. He was a founding committee member of the Irish Mathematics Learning Support Network; he is a Council member of the British Society for the History of Mathematics (BSHM) and Chair of the BSHM Neumann Prize Committee. Ciarán conducts research in algebraic number theory, mathematics education and the history of mathematics.   

Topics

Ciarán is flexible about the mathematical topics he would cover. He usually discusses potential topics in advance with the class teacher, as he likes to get students involved in his classes. Thus, Ciarán adjusts the topic covered depending on students' mathematical level and skills. 

To date Ciarán has given over 50 talks for students from ages approximately 10 to 19. In these talks he focusses on examples from the History of Mathematics and on getting students to do calculations, figure out patterns and make discoveries. Some examples that he has used include:

  • Images of the Narmer Macehead from Ancient Egypt, where students figure out how to count using the Egyptian Simple Grouping System and then can read the numbers represented on the Macehead. This can lead to discussions on the influence and use (or misuse) of number in communications and publicity. 
  • Various discussions around the Golden Ratio. For example, students could measure certain lengths in their bodies, e.g. total arm length, arm length from elbow etc., and then calculate various ratios. We could discuss the idea of a ‘Golden Person’ (ratios being the Golden Ratio) and move on to the Fibonacci sequence, and an exploration of ratios. For more advanced students, we can explore limits, look at the intersection of a pentagon’s diagonals, and solving quadratics. 
  • Explorations in Geometric Algebra. For example, students prove the Pythagorean Theorem using four identical right-angled triangles (algebraic geometry). Similarly, students can consider how to prove the 'algebraic identity' called the difference of two squares, and then consider how to use this to speed up multiplication of 'large' numbers.

The list provided is not exhaustive, and Ciarán is happy to discuss other potential topics with teachers.