The study of mathematics in Oxford has a long history, dating back at least to the 12th century, and includes influential figures like John Wallis, G. H. Hardy, Lewis Carroll, Andrew Wiles and Roger Penrose. Oxford’s first dedicated Mathematical Institute was created in 1966, and grew rapidly over the following decades; in 2013, it moved into a brand new building, thus enabling the integration of its pure and applied mathematicians under one roof, and ensuring collaborations both within and beyond Oxford. Many of Oxford’s famous mathematical names, such as those listed above, are of course white European men, but this is something that the Mathematical Institute is striving to change. The Oxford Mathematical Institute prides itself on being a global department, with faculty and students hailing from dozens of different countries.
As in many disciplines, the dominant narrative in the history of mathematics often offers a biased, Western-centric viewpoint. The Mathematical Institute is currently launching a virtual exhibition, followed by a physical one when the Covid-19 crisis allows, to emphasise the important, but often overlooked, role of other cultures in this history. From the sophisticated arithmetical techniques that Egyptian scribes used in record-keeping, to the non-positional base-20 number system employed by the Aztecs. From the Chinese Remainder Theorem on the solution of simultaneous congruences to the decimal positional number system employed by Indian scholars from early in the first millennium. From the discovery of Bernoulli numbers by the Japanese mathematician Seki Takakazu to the systematic solution of quadratic equations by al-Khwārizmī. This exhibition is a testimony to the constant, universal quest for mathematical beauty, and to the power of international and inter-cultural exchanges in mathematical creation.
The Mathematical Institute has this idea at its core, and it aims to offer a welcoming environment for researchers independently of their gender and origin. From faculty support of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences and the LMS MARM project on Mentoring African Research in Mathematics (helping to encourage local mathematical work, not simply promoting a European way of thinking), to initiatives to promote diversity within our staff and students, as well as in the image of mathematics that we project, advocating inclusivity is a key part of our culture.