MA318      Half Unit
History of Mathematics in Finance and Economics

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Jan van den Heuvel

Additional teachers: Prof June Barrow-Green and Prof Norman Biggs


This course is available on the BSc in Actuarial Science, BSc in Mathematics and Economics, BSc in Mathematics with Economics and BSc in Mathematics, Statistics and Business. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit. This course is available with permission to General Course students.


Students must have completed Mathematical Methods (MA100).

General Course students may substitute an equivalent course.

Course content

This course surveys the development of mathematics from the beginning of history with an emphasis on its applications to finance and economics. Major themes are origins of mathematics in different cultures; the development of arithmetic and geometry; the use of algebraic symbolism; the creation of the calculus, geometry, probability, and game theory. In order to give this course a distinctive flavour, we will illustrate these themes with examples taken from the social sciences, broadly interpreted. For example, the algorithms of arithmetic will be illustrated by their applications in finance, rather than astronomy. In addition, there will be sessions on diversity in mathematics, and on mathematics and ethics.


This course is delivered through a combination of classes and lectures totalling a minimum of 30 hours across Lent Term. This year, apart from pre-recorded lecture videos, there will be at least one weekly live online session of an hour. Depending on circumstances, classes might be online.

Formative coursework

Students are expected to submit written work on a weekly basis. One of these assignments will be an essay of 900-1100 words.

Indicative reading

The course is based on source material which will be distributed to students. J. Stedall’s ‘History of Mathematics: A Very Short Introduction’ (Oxford 2011) is recommended for background reading. Additional reading for each of the sections of the course will be given in the course material.


Exam (50%, duration: 2 hours, reading time: 5 minutes) in the summer exam period.
Essay (50%, 2000 words) in the ST Week 1.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Mathematics

Total students 2020/21: 13

Average class size 2020/21: 14

Capped 2020/21: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills