#algthinking2017: The Longue Durée History of Algorithmic Thinking in Mathematics

Public Event May 5, 2017, 9:30am-12pm
Social Science Matrix, Barrows Hall (8th floor), U.C. Berkeley

Authors' Workshop May 6, 2017
470 Stephens Hall, U.C. Berkeley

While strongly associated with computational technologies today, the term ‘algorithm’ predates the digital computer by over a thousand years, with an etymology traceable to the Islamic scholar al-Khwārizmī. Since then, many dreamed of mathematics as a body of knowledge made up of sets of instructions, to be implemented by humans who were supposed to behave like machines, or in mechanical devices.

This symposium brings together leading thinkers in the history of mathematics to reflect on the longue durée presence and influence of "algorithmic thinking." We emphasize continuities over ruptures and expose recurrent themes, such as the mechanization of logical and mathematical procedures, which predate the dawn of electronic computing but are often presented today as if they were radically new. This event serves as an opportunity to bridge the clear gap between the sophisticated historiography of mathematics and the current debate on digital algorithms. We intend to produce an edited volume based on the papers presented at this event. 


  • Massimo Mazzotti, UC Berkeley (host)
  • Caitlin C. Rosenthal, UC Berkeley (co-host)
  • Amir Alexander, UC Los Angeles
  • Michael Barany, Dartmouth College
  • Stephanie Dick, Harvard University
  • Theodora Dryer, UC San Diego
  • Andrew Fiss, Michigan Technological University
  • Abram Kaplan, Columbia University
  • Kevin Lambert, CSU Fullerton
  • Christopher Phillips, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Morgan G. Ames, UC Berkeley
  • J.B. Shank, University of Minnesota