Reflections of a new participant to HPM (Maurice O’Reilly)
What is a new-comer to HPM? In my case, I had met two inspirational figures in the HPM family, Costas Tzanakis and Fulvia Furingetti, at the ICTM conferences in Samos (1998), Crete (2002) and Istanbul (2006). Yet it was not until ICME 11 (Monterrey, 2008) that my meeting Costas and Fulvia came to fruition – there I met Jan van Maanen and Snezana Lawrence also. It took some more years and experiences (ESU-6 Vienna, 2010, CERME 7 Rzeszów, 2011 and BSHM in Greenwich and Dublin) before I was ready for the full immersion in HPM itself at ICME 12 in Seoul and HPM 2012 in Daejeon. The process of changing lens from that of a mathematician and ‘arriving’ at HPM is indeed a dépaysement; an internal adjustment is required to become comfortable with the external ‘paysage’.
It was at CERME 7 when I first presented my own work and enjoyed interaction with Mustafa Alpaslan, Kristín Bjarnadóttir, Kathy Clark, Uffe Janqvist, Tinne Kjeldsen and Peter Ransom, amongst others. It was good to meet all of these established HPM friends again in Daejeon; on the other hand, I regretted that Costas, Fulvia, Jan and Snezana could not be there. There were others I had met at ESU-6, some of whom came to Daejeon. I would like to mention Evelyne Barbin, Sunwook Hwang, and Manfred Kronfellner in their respective chairing roles of HPM and of the organizing committees for Daejeon and Vienna. These thirteen, along with several others whose company I enjoyed in Greenwich, Vienna, Rzeszów, and Dublin were the ones who inspired me to consider coming to the HPM conference in Daejeon – and I was not disappointed!
Of course it is the job of the scientific programme committee of any conference to give the conference a coherent shape and to ensure faithfulness to the chosen form. The structure afforded by the seven themes achieved this in the case of HPM 2012. However, the themes contributed much more than coherence, they underpinned the rich variety of endeavour that is the essence of HPM in the breadth and depth of the work carried out by researchers in a great many countries. Attention was paid, to good effect, to theoretical frameworks, on the one hand, and to the use of history (including original sources) in teaching mathematics, on the other. I appreciated how I might draw from most of the 27 presentations I attended to enhance my own professional work in teaching not only the history of mathematics (HoM), but also mathematics itself. The importance of the role of history in motivating seminal questions relating mathematics to science, technology and the arts was emphasised, as was the key position of mathematics in the cultures of Europe, Asia and the Americas. A variety of topics in the history of mathematics education (HoME) was explored. It seems that an emphasis on this area of research is relatively new; I suspect it will become more and more important as we try to understand deeply trajectories of curricular reform. Of the seven themes, it was the last one, namely mathematics from Eastern Asia, with which I had most difficulty engaging; I hasten to add that this was due to my own lack of familiarity with the area, rather than the quality of the presentations!
The conference embodied the rich interaction between the H, the P and the M of HPM. In the discussion, concern was expressed about the perceived peripheral position of HPM within the broader corpus of research in mathematics education. To address this concern, it may be important to be more explicit in employing established mathematics education research frameworks in HPM research. On the other hand, HoM plays its own distinctive role in mathematics education – this may need to be articulated more clearly outside the HPM community. There appeared to be diverse views on what were the appropriate grounds to persuade ‘others’ of the importance of HoM and HPM research.
The entire experience of HPM 2012 in Daejeon was extremely enriching: the presentations, the discussions, the interactions at the venue and later ‘into the evening’, the excursion (to historic Gongju) and the overall organization. For all of these, I am very grateful to all those who prepared so carefully for this excellent conference. I am confident I will draw on the experience of Daejeon for a long time to come.
CASTeL, Dublin, Ireland