Museum of Mathematics

ETHER is today launching (2 July 2014) the Museum of Mathematics to serve the interests of mathematics in the country and to promote the knowledge and love of mathematics, especially among school children.

For many years ETHER has been engaged in supporting museums, libraries, galleries and archives, and today we shift into being a museum ourselves. We have contemplated this a lot over the past few years, and especially on the question “how does one start a new museum”? Is it sufficient to simply say that we are a museum, or is there some other qualification required? We will be outlining in these blogs how we are going about this creation of a new museum from birth, including how we create our governance structures, our strategies, and our policy framework. We will be deciding on what we should be collecting and how we should be enabling access to the collection, and particularly exploring the relationship between the physical collection of mathematical items and the virtual collections of mathematical knowledge.

Mathematics pervades all of our lives and our society, and yet it is completely intangible. For example we cannot capture the number two and show it off in a museum. Perhaps someone out there has the original number two and I (Roger Layton) should be speaking to them, but I see number two as a shared concept and not an object.

The name for this is the Museum of Mathematics, and is shortened as MμMα (or as MUMA)MμMα  will be opening up the world of mathematics to all showing the part that it plays, its interesting aspects, how it is used, and where it is going.

From the ICOM definition of a museum, it is insufficient for us to be purely virtual, and so as a start to our physical collection I am donating a Slide Rule and its accompanying Guide Book, as our accession number 1. So we are collecting and we have started a collection of mathematical objects.


These blog entries are the start of this museum, and over the coming months this will be growing as I seek out other items for my collection, including many items which I have myself and which I will donate, including a large library of books.

  1. MμMα #1: Annoucning The Museum of Mathematics
  2. MμMα #2: Identifying the Users

A Request for Collaboration and Help

As a part of this ETHER is seeking collaboration with other institutions who may hold interesting items that they may wish to donate or loan to us, and how was can firstly establish the range of mathematical knowledge and objects which exist in the various museums in the country, and how we can use these on a virtual basis, by capturing these digitally, and making these available, with full citation back to the custodian and source of the items.

So, for those who have collections and who may be in a position to share these with MUMA I am looking for the following:

  • Any equipment which was used for mathematical support, such as old adding and calculating machines, and any accompanying manuals for these.
  • Any measuring equipment.
  • Indigenous knowledge items, and information about the counting systems used in different languages.
  • Shapes and patterns used in architecture and crafts, such as the exception traditional designs of Zulu basketry.
  • Any old reference books.
  • Any specific exhibitions which feature mathematics, such as of our everyday life, our measuring systems, our designs, our financial world, and in the world of engineering and construction.
  • Specific stories that feature mathematics.

This will be a long process, and we have to start somewhere, and we are building our internal processes on SPECTRUM, and creating a workable museum environment to look after and preserve the items, and to make them available.

I look forward to hearing from you about what you may have and whether you may be interested in getting involved in this venture.