Even mathematics' simplest aspects involve symbols, abbreviation and conventions. These may
form an awkward barrier to understanding. Even more important, the conventions
aren't always the best way to indicate the idea involved. A Western convention
and the Asian (Vietnamese) equivalent, for tallying one through five
(Compare Methods), shows the latter as quickly
recognizable and advantageous.
Because a cultural context of some early quantitative issue may differ
radically from our current understanding, students are asked to learn
things that foreclose an option. That is true of partition, especially
in the case of fair apportioning. For instance,
dividing nine loaves of bread fairly among ten people can be solved in two
ways. Our approach today involves nine nine-tenth, one-tenth partitions.
That seems to be a fair way but it isn't
how ancient Egyptians would have done it. In their
view, to give equal portions to all ten people involved one needs to
account for people in a real situation, something at the heart
of a different numerical partitioning method. (The
nine receiving nine-tenths a loaf would likely be envied by the tenth
person who receives nine one-tenth loaf crusts.) [More at
Temple, Robert, The Genius of China, New York: Simon and
Neugebauer, O., The Exact Sciences in Antiquity, New York: Dover,
Gillings, Richard J., Mathematics in the Time of the Pharaohs,
Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1972; NY: Dover Publications,
Inc., 1982, ISBN 0-486-24315-X.
Ascher, Marcia and Ascher, Robert, Mathematics of the Incas: Code of the
Quipu, Dover, 1997, ISBN 0486295540.
Joseph, George Gheverghese, The Crest of the Peacock - Non-European
Roots of Mathematics, London UK: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd Publishers, 1991.
Ascher, Marcia, Ethnomathematics, A Multicultural View of Mathematical
Ideas, Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company, Wadsworth,
Inc., Belmont, CA, 1991, ISBN 0-534-14880-8.
Selin, Helaine, ed., Mathematics Across Cultures - The History of
Non-Western Mathematics, Dordrecht, The Netherlands:
Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000, ISBN 0-7923-6481-3.
Bronowski, J., The Ascent of Man, Boston MA: Little Brown, 1973.
Osen, Lynn M., Women in Mathematics, ISBN 0-262-15014-X, Cambridge MA:
The MIT Press, 1974.