Foredrag d. 9. marts 2021

Karine Chemla
SPHERE (Université de Paris — CNRS) & Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University

Reflections on the historiography and the history of numbers

The presentation will outline some common features of the historiographies of numbers and suggest that tacit hypotheses have made their way into the premises of these historiographies. I will question the validity of some of these tacit hypotheses, in particular for the case of numerical signs in China. The same phenomena as those to which I will draw attention, relying on Chinese sources, can also be evidenced in South Asia and the Arabic world. Recent research has brought to light that, in each of these parts of the world, one could identify different cultures of computation, which used the same numerical signs differently or used different sets of signs. Bringing this diversity to light will allow me to shed light on aspects of the history and nature of the decimal place-value notation that in my view deserve more attention than was given to them.