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Science Literacy Week September 19 - 25, 2022

What's a fonds?

The word "fonds" is used to describe most archival collections in Canada and also in many European and Latin American countries.  Fonds simply means the documents in any media or format created or received by a person or an organization in the course of their personal or professional activities.  For example, the "Nalini Nadkarni fonds" would refer to the records created and received by Nalini Nadkarni.


Read the Wikipedia article for the term "fonds."

Digital Access to Historical Works in Mathematics

The Rare Books and Special Collections and University Archives reading room will be temporarily closed from August 1 through November 30, 2022 for upgrades. While we encourage you to browse the below offerings available through our Reading Room, please be aware that you will not be able to access these materials in person until we reopen in December.

If you are excited to look at historical works in mathematics right now, you can use one of many digital repositories of rare books and archival materials. Try searching for 'mathematics' or a particular discipline within math, such as 'geometry' or 'calculus.' For example, the Biodiversity Heritage Library has over 300 titles related to 'math'!

Archival Materials

In order to facilitate primary research, the University of British Columbia Rare Books and Special Collections (RBSC) Library acquires archival materials in all media, including textual paper records, photographs, audiovisual recordings, maps, plans, artwork, selected published materials, and electronic records. RBSC strives to document the economic, political, cultural, labour, and literary history of British Columbia and Canada. Archives are organized by creator and separated into different 'fonds' to reflect the documents in any media or format created or received by a person or an organization in the course of their personal or professional activities.

RBSC holds some archival material created by people who worked or had an interest in mathematics. These historic sources provide a fascinating perspective on how mathematics was used, taught, and notated by individuals in the past.

Historical Works in Mathematics

While UBC Library's William C. Gibson History of Medicine and Science Collection, primarily contains rare books, manuscripts, medical biographies, and books about medical history, it also contains materials related to both pure and applied mathematics. Among these you will find works of mathematics and science by renowned mathematician Isaac Newton. Books on mathematical topics can also be found in the Dr. C.E. Dolman Collection.

Outside of the Gibson and Dolman Collections, Rare Books and Special Collections holds a small but interesting selection of books on mathematics as part of its general collection, including a Victorian edition of The first six books of the Elements of Euclid with vibrant colour diagrams. In addition, RBSC's historical textbook collection contains a number of 17th, 18th and 19th century instructional texts related to mathematics.

Here is a selection of just some of the books at UBC Library's Rare Books and Special Collections.