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Marjorie Lee Browne Colloquium - MLK Day

The Marjorie Lee Browne Colloquium was established in 1999 in the Department of Mathematics in observance of Martin Luther King day. The colloquium brings a distinguished speaker to campus to present a talk that highlights their research but also addresses the issue of diversity in the sciences. It honors the first African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. in Mathematics from UM.

Marjorie Lee Browne received her B.S. in mathematics from Howard University (1935). She received her M.S. in mathematics from the University of Michigan in 1939, making her one of the first few African American women with a graduate mathematics degree. Ms. Browne taught at Wiley College while continuing graduate work during the summers. She received a Ph.D. in mathematics from Michigan in 1950, making her Michigan’s first known African-American woman mathematics Ph.D. recipient. Her thesis, “On the One Parameter Subgroups of Certain Topological and Matrix Groups”, was directed by Professor G. Y. Rainich.  

Dr. Browne taught at North Carolina Central University from 1949 until her death in 1979. She was the only faculty member with a Ph.D. for twenty five years, and a strong leader. She chaired the department from 1951 until 1970, supervised ten Masters theses, and inspired a generation of talented students to continue in mathematics. Dr. Browne also had a deep interest in continuing education for secondary school teachers. Under her leadership, the NSF funded a summer institute for secondary school teachers of mathematics for thirteen years, for which Dr. Browne also authored four sets of lecture notes. 

Source: Patricia C. Kenschaft “Black Women in Mathematics in the United States,” American Mathematical Monthly, vol. 88 (1981), 592-604.

2022 Marjorie Lee Browne Colloquium, January 17, 4:00 pm
Robert Megginson, University of Michigan

Video of Talk

PDF Presentation

Title: Indigenous Mathematics, Including an In-Depth Look at the
Number Theory of the Maya (poster)

Abstract: This talk, which will be broadly accessible to non-mathematicians, will begin by visiting such matters as the effect that cultural outlook can have on one's attitude toward mathematics, and why there is an ugly myth that Native Americans and some other indigenous peoples of the world are intrinsically doomed to be bad at math. The talk will then take a fairly deep dive into the number theory of the Maya without becoming overly technical, and show some of the world's first number-theoretic story problems, found engraved on Mayan steles. Some of the questions that will be addressed are:
1. Why did the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs remove algebra and geometry from the standard boarding school curriculum in the early part of the twentieth century?
2. What is the evidence that the linguistic in which mathematics is taught has an impact on student learning, particularly of indigenous peoples?
3. Did the Maya really make significant use of what we would recognize as number theory well over a thousand years ago? (Answer: At least one respected ethnomathematician believes so.)
4. Why would the speaker really like to know the source of the Maya symbol for 0 (particularly since the Maya were one of the few peoples to come up with the knowledge of zero as a true number)?
5. Did the world really come to an end on December 21, 2012, as the Maya predicted? (Spoiler alert: (a) There seems to be evidence that the world did not. (b) Furthermore, there really is no credible evidence that the Maya ever thought it would. (c) But we'll see why some folks believe that the Maya did so predict.)
6. Did too much knowledge of number theory lead to the end of the Mejica (Aztec) empire? (Answer: maybe.)


Previous Speakers

2021 Ryan Hynd, University of Pennsylvania
2020 Ricardo Cortez, Tulane University
2019 Suzanne L. Weekes, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
2018 Rudy Horne, Morehouse College (given by Professor Talitha Washington after the sudden passing of Professor Rudy Horne)
2017 Chelsea Walton, Temple University
2016 Cristina Villalobos, University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley
2015 Edray Goins, Purdue University
2014 Trachette Jackson, University of Michigan
2013 Richard A. Tapia, Rice University
2012 James Curry, University of Colorado
2011 Ivelisse Rubio, University of Puerto Rico
2010 Rodrigo Banuelos, Purdue University
2009 Emery Brown, MIT
2008 Juan Meza, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
2007 William Massey, Princeton University
2006 Philip Kutzko, University of Iowa
2005 Carlos Castillo-Chavez, Arizona State University
2004 Arlie O. Petters, Duke University
2003 William Yslas Vélez, University of Arizona
2002 Raymond L. Johnson, University of Maryland
2001 Evelyn Boyd Granville, California State University, Los Angeles
2000 Sylvia Bozeman, Spelman College
1999 Robert Megginson, UM (prior to naming of the colloquium)