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African Studies: African ethno-mathematics

A guide to UF Libraries' research and teaching resources in African Studies. Feel free to let us know what would be useful to have included.

Ethnomathematics books

"I am a mathematician, and I would like to stand on your roof."

"Ethno-mathematician" Ron Eglash is the author of African Fractals, a book that examines the fractal patterns underpinning architecture, art and design in many parts of Africa. By looking at aerial-view photos -- and then following up with detailed research on the ground -- Eglash discovered that many African villages are purposely laid out to form perfect fractals, with self-similar shapes repeated in the rooms of the house, and the house itself, and the clusters of houses in the village, in mathematically predictable patterns.

As he puts it: "When Europeans first came to Africa, they considered the architecture very disorganized and thus primitive. It never occurred to them that the Africans might have been using a form of mathematics that they hadn't even discovered yet."

One of the more interesting tidbits toward the end of his talk is the assertion that binary code developed in Europe from a series of direct contacts with West African divination:

Eglash, R. "African Influences in Cybernetics." In C.H. Gray (ed) The Cyborg Handbook.

(Recorded June 2007 in Arusha, Tanzania. Duration: 16:51.)

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