Ascher, Marcia 1935-

views updated

ASCHER, Marcia 1935-

PERSONAL: Born April, 1935, in New York, NY; daughter of Harry (a glazier) and Frances (a secretary) Alper; married Robert Ascher (an anthropologist), 1956. Education: Queens College, City University of New York, B.S., 1956; University of California at Los Angeles, M.A., 1960.

ADDRESSES: Offıce—Department of Mathematics, Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY 14850.

CAREER: Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY, began as assistant professor, 1961, became full professor, professor emerita, 1995—.

AWARDS, HONORS: Getty Scholar, Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities; Dana Research Fellow, Ithaca College (twice).


(With Robert Ascher) Code of the Quipu: A Study inMedia, Mathematics, and Culture, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1981, published as Mathematics of the Incas: Code of the Quipu, Dover (New York, NY), 1997.

Ethnomathematics: A Multicultural View of Mathematical Ideas, Brooks/Cole (Pacific Grove, CA), 1991.

Mathematics Elsewhere: An Exploration of Ideas across Cultures, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2002.

Contributor of numerous articles to edited books and scholarly journals on the subject of Inca quipus and mathematical ideas in traditional and small-scale cultures.

SIDELIGHTS: Mathematician Marcia Ascher is best known for her works that examine mathematical ideas in their cultural contexts. In works like Ethnomathematics: A Multicultural View of Mathematical Ideas and Mathematics Elsewhere: An Exploration of Ideas across Cultures, Ascher examines the way that non-Western cultures and traditional societies utilize and express ideas involving numbers, logic, and spatial configurations. "She shows us how various cultures use surprisingly sophisticated mathematical techniques," wrote T. C. Holyoke in the Antioch Review. "Ascher takes the reader on a journey to foreign lands," Joanne Caniglia noted in a review of Mathematics Elsewhere for Mathematical Teaching in the Middle School, "examining the mathematics that naturally occurs in other cultures and relating it to mathematical concepts that are universally accepted." "Ascher both examines the nature of the mathematics put into practice by individual societies," Natural History contributor James V. Rauff declared in his review of the same book, "and considers how those non-Western mathematical concepts fit into and express the ethos of the cultures that gave rise to them."

One example of sophisticated record-keeping done in a non-Western civilization is the Incan quipu, which served the bureaucrats of the early modern South American empire in lieu of a written language. Knotted strings conveyed huge amounts of information coded in the type and sizes of knots, the colors and length of strings, and the spacing between cords. In Mathematics of the Incas: Code of the Quipu, Ascher and her anthropologist husband Robert analyze almost two hundred quipu, many of them from the collection of the library at the University of Michigan. "The text," wrote School Science and Mathematics contributor Medhat H. Rahim, "will attract students and teachers of folk art, anthropology, and ethnology as it details ways in which pieces of colored strings embodied the rich, logical, numerical tradition of the Incan civilization."

Ascher told CA: "My primary motivation for writing is to enlarge the history of mathematics to one that has a global and humanistic perspective. At the same time, I hope to enlarge the readers' view of what is mathematical and to have them see the vital role of mathematical ideas in human endeavors."



Antioch Review, spring, 2003, T. C. Holyoke, review of Mathematics Elsewhere: An Exploration of Ideas across Cultures, p. 371.

Library Journal, November 1, 2002, Amy Brunvand, review of Mathematics Elsewhere, p. 124.

Mathematical Gazette, November, 2003, Gerry Leversha, review of Mathematics Elsewhere, pp. 600-602.

Mathematical Reviews, number 1004, 2003, Thomas E. Gilsdorf, review of Mathematics Elsewhere.

Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, May, 2003, Joanne Caniglia, review of Mathematics Elsewhere, p. 504.

Natural History, September, 2003, James V. Rauff, "The Varieties of Mathematical Experience: Ethnomathematics Is a Powerful Tool for Understanding Other Cultures," p. 54.

Notices of the American Mathematical Society, May, 2003, Victor Katz, review of Mathematics Elsewhere, pp. 556-560.

School Science and Mathematics, March, 2000, Medhat H. Rahim, "Mathematics of the Incas: Code of the Quipu," p. 162.

Science, November 1, 2002, Helaine Selin, review of Mathematics Elsewhere, pp. 969-970.

Wilson Quarterly, winter, 2001, Charles Seife, review of Mathematics Elsewhere, p. 124.


American Scientist Online, (September 21,2004), "Marcia Ascher."

About this article

Ascher, Marcia 1935-

Updated About content Print Article Share Article