The Calculus of History

Math with Bad Drawings

the paper I’d assign to a calculus class if everyone shared my slightly skewed sense of intellectual fun and my excessive fondness for mathematical metaphors


Forget the history of calculus. Write me a paper on the calculus of history.

You won’t be the first. In War and Peace, Tolstoy compared civilization to a vast integral. Only by summing all “the individual tendencies of men,” Tolstoy wrote, “can we hope to arrive at the laws of history.” His was a true people’s history. Each peasant and prince gets the same weight in Tolstoy’s great Riemann sum. To give the monarchs disproportionate weight (thereby silencing the masses) would be a perversity, a paradox. No delta functions in Tolstoy’s mathematics.


History as an integral. That’s one way to see it.

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