Roger HartJul 27, 2012
The Chinese Roots of Linear Algebra
Johns Hopkins University Press 2011
Roger Hart's The Chinese Roots of Linear Algebra (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011) is the first book-length study of linear algebra in imperial China, and is based on an astounding combination of erudition and expertise in both Chinese history and the practice and history of linear algebra. Alternating among an interdisciplinary array of materials and ideas that range from the Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Arts to modern matrix theory, Hart argues for the importance of visualization to the solution of linear algebra problems in China in the years before Leibniz. In the course of a detailed and exhaustive account of fangcheng practice, Hart explores issues of primary importance to the history of science broadly writ, including the relationship and distinction between popular and elite knowledge, the challenges of inferring and extracting historical practices from the textual record, and the challenges of translating scientific terminology across the languages and cultures of the past and present. Hart's book is a unique and standout contribution to the history of science in what have been called "non-Western" cultures, and our conversation touched on both the specifics of his study and the broader historiographical issues that his work speaks to. Enjoy!