Historical context gives mathematics (and mathematicians, dare I say) a rich personality that is all too often lost in formal study. It reveals the human side of mathematics; the pain and ecstasy of pursuing new mathematical frontiers. It normalises struggle and perseverence as traits of the common mathematician. It snips away the binary view that many students take towards maths and replaces it with a world replete with discovery and surprise.
Indeed, understanding discovery in context is a matter of learning mathematics vs. calculation. Why did Newton devise calculus? What was Euclid trying to accomplish in producing Elements? Why do we all know this work ‘algebra’ that derives from al-jabr, ‘the reunion of broken parts?’ Who was Pythagoras and why did he even care if a² + b² = c²?
Mathematics is learned when you get into the minds of the mathematicians who came before you. It’s not merely that it’s soulless to learn math without history, it’s that you can hardly even learn the math without understanding how and why it was even discovered in the first place.