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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Cinco de Mayo Mathematician Highlight

After doing a little research, I’ve discovered that Cinco de Mayo is a holiday celebrated possibly more in the United States than in Mexico, its country of origin. Cinco de Mayo began as the celebration of a battle- it commemorates the Mexican army’s victory over France at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. This victory was particularly important in the Franco-Mexican war because it was an impossible feat as the Mexicans won against a much better equipped army.

In the United States, it is often utilized by Mexican Americans as a celebration of Mexican culture, including festivals and parades in some cities. In typical Center of Math fashion, we will use this opportunity to feature a prominent Mexican mathematician, Fray Diego Rodriguez!

Diego Rodriguez
Fray Diego Rodríguez was a renaissance man born in Atitalaquía (now a part of the greater Mexico City metro area) in the year 1596. He entered a friary in 1613, and began his mathematical studies around the year 1620. Rodríguez quickly showed proficiency in mathematics, and became the head of a small society of mathematicians who would meet regularly to discuss their findings.

Unfortunately, very little information remains on Rodríguez’s mathematical publications. During most of his career, the Spanish Inquisition was at its height. Because Mexico was still a Spanish colony at this time, Mexican scientists and authors had to follow strict censorship rules set down by the Spanish Inquisition. Rodríguez may have worked to send his research to other countries in the Americas to avoid the Inquisition, including sending a paper dealing with the construction of precise clocks to  Peru with a student. That student and Rodríguez both used his method to measure the longitude of Mexico City with incredible precision.
A depiction of an execution by the Spanish Inquisition. Nobody expects them!!
Had more of Rodríguez’s works been published, it is possible that he would have made a more significant impact on the history of the American colonies. Cartographers and navigators could have greatly benefitted from his methods of calculating position. However, the censorship by the Inquisition partnered with an extremely limited market for scientific works meant much of Rodríguez’s work was ignored at the time of its creation.

Thanks to a few dedicated librarians, we have information (even if we have only a little) about Diego Rodríguez. As one of the first great Mexican mathematicians, it is important to remember him on one of the most internationally recognized Mexican holidays. Happy Cinco de Mayo to all of our followers!

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