For the past one hundred years, the Mathematical Association of America has been publishing high-quality articles on the history of mathematics, some written by distinguished historians such as Florian Cajori, Julian Lowell Coolidge, Max Dehn, David Eugene Smith, Carl Boyer, and others. Many well-known historians of the present day also contribute to the MAA's journals. Some years ago, Robin Wilson and Marlow Anderson, along with the late John Fauvel, a distinguished and sorely missed historian of mathematics, decided that it would be useful toreprint a selection of these papers and to set them in the context of modern historical research, so that current mathematicians can continue to enjoy them and so that newer articles can be easily compared with older ones. After John's untimely death, Victor Katz was asked to fill in and help bring this project to completion.
A careful reading of some of the older papers in particular shows that although modern research has introduced some new information or has fostered some new interpretations, in large measure they are neither dated nor obsolete. Nevertheless, we have sometimes decided to include two or more papers on a single topic, written years apart, to show the progress in the history of mathematics.
The editors hope that you will enjoy this collection covering nearly four thousand years of history, from ancient Babylonia up to the time of Euler in the eighteenth century. We wish to thank Don Albers, Director of Publication at the MAA, and Gerald Alexanderson, chair of the publications committee of the MAA, for their support for the history of mathematics at the MAA in general, and for this project in particular.