LOOKING AT MATH FROM DIFFERENT ANGLES
Kevin Hartshorn, assistant professor of mathematics at Moravian, likes his students to take mathematical concepts out of the classroom. One day this spring, his Mathematics for Design class could be seen creating a chalk mural on the side of the PPHAC building as a way to understand the principles of perspective. Depending on where the viewer stood, the drawing was either split in half by a window panel, or joined to form a complete rendering of a tropical island with palm tree. On the following day, they group used dozens of discarded CDs to create a geometric figure that resembled an oversized soccer ball.
This fall, students in Kevin's new class, "Special Topics: Ethnomathematics," will explore even more ways to put math to use, like mathematical sand drawings from the South Pacific, or the algebra of indigenous Australian family structures. Ethnomathematics, a kind of math-anthropology mash-up, examines the ways in which different cultures use and understand mathematical concepts. "Two plus two will always equal four, whatever the culture," Kevin explains, "but the kinds of questions you're interested in, and the ways you try to answer them, are very culturally dependant." Kevin considers the relatively new field of ethnomath to be a good fit for Moravian, where an interdisciplinary approach to scholarship is highly valued. He also appreciates the topic's emphasis not just on numbers, but the people who use them. "When I was in graduate school, I was very much into the abstract, universal nature of mathematics," he notes. "But later I realized that I most enjoy the interpersonal relationships you experience when you're working through problems with other people."