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long shot of the length of the timeline

The math timeline spans the entire 108-foot corridor in the Math-Science building.

Bell Tower | Arts and SciencesOctober 03, 2023

History Comes Alive in Math Timeline

Written By: Judith Hansen

“When you do real math at a higher level, it’s just as much an art form as a painting or sculpture.”  -- Dr. Jack Jackson 


What is 4 feet tall, 108 feet wide, and lives in the Math Science building? 

Need more hints? Its creation took three senior mathematics majors, three math professors, an infusion of department funds, professional printing by Graphics Services in Fort Smith and five full years of research and design.

Ahh. Now you have it. The Timeline of Mathematics spans the length of the eastmost hallway of the second floor of the Math Science building.  

Dr. Jack Jackson, Professor of Mathematics, envisioned the project. He enlisted the help of students Shaylie Sanders, who worked on it in spring 2018; Hunter Marquez de la Plata, spring 2019; and while the challenges of the pandemic slowed the project in 2020-2021, Chyniqua Johnson, joined the team to bring the project near completion in spring of 2022.

Dr. Todd Timmons, Professor Emeritus and math historian, and Dr. Kayla Murray, a member of the UAFS class of 2009 and Associate Professor of Mathematics, lent their support throughout the project.

The timeline is more than a compilation of mathematical developments from 800 BCE until 2022.

Under the linear graphic spanning the top of the design, there are images and brief biographies of significant mathematicians; notable dates for scientific, technological, and cultural innovations (including the 1928 foundation of Fort Smith Junior College) for context; and 117 featured articles including overviews of the centuries, recognition of award winners, and accounts of interesting mathematical stories.  

Over 480 mathematicians from Thales through Archimedes, Katherine Johnson, and Steve Wolfram find places on the timeline.  

All math majors at UAFS work to complete senior projects and are expected to report on them at midterm and the end of the semester, Jackson said. In subsequent years, Sanders, Marquez de la Plata, and Johnson worked directly with Jackson on different sections of the timeline. In addition to presentations, Sanders, class of 2019, and Marquez de la Plata, class of 2020, spoke about the project at the Mathematics Association of America’s Oklahoma-Arkansas Section meeting. 

Sanders did most of the work on the portion of the timeline covering recent developments in mathematics. Marquez de la Plata worked on the section describing events back to about 1100. Johnson, the final student to work on the project, concentrated on the earliest information.  

Complementing the students’ work, Jackson and Timmons wrote the century overviews and many articles, and Murray provided careful proofing to ensure all the information was accurate and current.  

Much of the historic content was sourced from the MacTutor History of Mathematics website, augmented with research gleaned from a variety of academic resources. 

The different sections are not all drawn to the same scale of time, Jackson said, because events happen much more quickly in the modern era. He hopes demonstrating the vastness of the history alongside the visualization of how rapid developments are made in the 21st century, can teach students nuances that may be missed in the classroom. 

“When we teach math, oftentimes we teach it in a finished, polished form,” Jackson said. “We usually don’t teach about the people who developed it over time or even when it was developed. Sometimes we lose track of the idea that all of mathematics was created by people. 

“The timeline shows that math is a human endeavor, something real people worked on over time. It honors this fantastic group of diverse people from all genders, cultures, and locations from around the world who have brought us this wonderful gift of mathematics. They provided the ability to make technology happen, to live our modern lives. We hope the timeline will inspire the next generation." 


  • Tags:
  • Mathematics
  • College of Arts and Sciences

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