Math and Native American Culture

American IndiansFriday, February 27, Dr. Robert Megginson from the University of Michigan will be speaking at UCF about the role of mathematics among American Indians.

In the early 1930s, Will Ryan, Director of Indian Education for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), eliminated algebra and geometry from the Uniform Course of Study in BIA schools. This was done in a well-intentioned, but misguided effort to make BIA education more culturally relevant for American Indians.

Their belief was that mathematics has had no historical or cultural importance for the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere. In fact, examples abound of the importance of mathematics in many Native cultures of the Americas. The well-developed number systems of pre-contact Mesoamerica are probably the most well-known.

Dr. Megginson will present this system along with some of its number-theoretic underpinnings and consequences, as well as the cultural values that led to some of its structure.



One of only about 12 Native Americans who hold a PhD in mathematics, Robert Megginson grew up in a family who was interested in math.  For the past decade Dr. Megginson has spent his time working to solve the problem of the under-representation of minorities in the field of mathematics. In 1992 he developed a summer program for high school students at the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota. The purpose of the program is to keep the students interested in mathematics and related fields and encourage them to pursue college degrees in these areas.

Dr. Megginson has been very involved in the problems of minority mathematics education, especially that of Native Americans. He is a Sequoyah Fellow of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, and works actively through the programs of this organization to further the participation of Native American people in mathematics. To read more about Dr. Megginson click here.

His talk will take place on Friday, Feb. 27 in the Mathematical Sciences Building, room 318 at 11 a.m.


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