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The Awarding of the Kenneth O. May Prize for the Fourth Time

The summer of 2001 the May Medal was awarded jointly to Ubiratàn D'Ambrosio (*1932), Brazil and Lam Lay Yong (*1936), Singapore during the XXIth Congress in Mexico City. Professor D'Ambrosio was present in Mexico City and received his medal there, while professor Lam was presented with hers during the International Mathematics Congress in Beijing 2002.

The two scholars were awarded the May Prize because they have contributed significantly to enlarge history of mathematics by opening new research fields which actually also soon found their ways into textbooks. Thus today no serious historian of mathematics would write a general book on the history of mathematics without including ethnomathematics and Chinese mathematics. This is partly due to the inspiring contributions by professor D'Ambrosio and professor Lam.

Ubiratan D'Ambrosio

Study of D'Ambrosio's curriculum vitae leaves one almost breathless, how can one scholar have done so much, having at the time of the Mexico Congress not yet reached seventy? Here follows an extremely abbreviated version. D'Ambrosio earned his doctorate from the University of São Paulo, Brazil in 1963. He retired as a professor of mathematics from the State University of Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil in 1993 having behind him an impressive career as teacher, administrator, council member of many societies, including Pugwash, and writer, and he also found time to serve ICHM for five years. He is still very active and member of numerous learned societies, even founding member of several, including the International Group of Ethnomathematics and the Brazilian Society for History of Mathematics.

The ICHM has awarded the May Medal to D'Ambrosio for his never ending efforts through writing and lectures to promote Ethnomathematics and thereby contributing intensely to make the field established. Recognition has come from many sides, for instance was one of the first May Medalist, Dirk Struik very impressed by the work by D'Ambrosio; a better recommendation is hard to find. On my request professor D'Ambrosio has selected the following publications from his long list of writings on ethnomathematics:

  • Ethnomathematics and Its Place in History and Pedagogy of Mathematics, in For the Learning of Mathematics, Vol. 5, 1985, FLM Publishing Association, Canada.
  • Ethnomathematics. Challenging Eurocentrism, in Mathematics Education, eds. Arthur B. Powell and Marilyn Frankenstein, State University of New York Press, Albany 1997, pp. 13-24.
  • Historiographical Proposal for Non-Western Mathematics, in: Mathematics Across Cultures. The History of Non-Western Mathematics, ed. Helaine Selin, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, 2000, pp. 79-92.
  • A matemàtica na época das grandes navegações e início da colonização, Revista Brasileira de História da Matemática, vol.1,1 (2001), pp. 3-20.
  • Etnomatematica,Pitagora Editrice, Bologna, 2002.

Lam Lay Yong

Professor Lam Lay Yong's curriculum vitae is also long and notable, and again I extract a very brief version. Lam Lay Yong graduated from National University of Singapore in 1966. She taught mathematics there since 1960 and was full professor from 1988. She retired in 1996 after having worked at the Department of Mathematics for 35 years. During this period, she also served ICHM as associate editor of Historia Mathematica from 1974 to 1990. She is member of the Académie internationale d’ histoire des sciences.

The ICHM has awarded Lam Lay Yong the Kenneth O. May Medal for her profound scholarship on Chinese mathematics, and for making the richness of Chinese mathematics accessible to Western readers, as for instance in her first book from 1977: A Critical Study of the Yang Hui Suan Fa, a Thirteenth-Century Mathematical Treatise.The number of papers she has published in international peer-reviewed journals is just extraordinary, they are internationally highly respected and some of her ideas have given rise to vivid academic discussions. On my request professor Lam has selected the three following publications among her valuable contributions to Chinese mathematics.

  • Jiu Zhang Suanshu (Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art): An Overview, Archive for History of Exact Sciences, vol. 47 (1994), pp. 1-51.
  • Zhang Qiujian Suanjing (The Mathematical Classic of Zhang Qiujian): An Overview, Archive for History of Exact Sciences, vol. 50 (1997), pp. 201-240.
  • Together with Ang Tian Se: Fleeting Footsteps. Tracing the Conception of Arithmetic and Algebra in Ancient China, Revised Edition, World Scientific, Singapore, 2004.