Test Cover Image of:  Performing Math

Performing Math

A History of Communication and Anxiety in the American Mathematics Classroom

Performing Mathtells the history of expectations for math communication—and the conversations about math hatred and math anxiety that occurred in response. Focusing on nineteenth-century American colleges, this book analyzes foundational tools and techniques of math communication: the textbooks that supported reading aloud, the burnings that mimicked pedagogical speech, the blackboards that accompanied oral presentations, the plays that proclaimed performers’ identities as math students, and the written tests that redefined “student performance.” Math communication and math anxiety went hand in hand as new rules for oral communication at the blackboard inspired student revolt and as frameworks for testing student performance inspired performance anxiety. With unusual primary sources from over a dozen educational archives, Performing Mathargues for a new, performance-oriented history of American math education, one that can explain contemporary math attitudes and provide a way forward to reframing the problem of math anxiety.

Author Information

ANDREW FISS is an assistant professor in technical communication at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Michigan.


"Through an impressive array of evidence and historical accounts, Performing Mathconvincingly shows that mathematics education has often had a significant theatrical component. Without a doubt this book illuminates mathematics and its place in American culture in new and surprising ways."
— Amir Alexander, author of Proof! How the World Became Geometrical

"Andrew Fiss’s examination of ways in which American textbook authors, teachers, and students have communicated mathematical ideas over the past two centuries gives new meaning to the phrase classroom performance."
— Peggy Aldrich Kidwell, coauthor of Tools of American Mathematics Teaching, 1800–2000

"Performing Mathtackles the important topic of mathematics education from a distinctive angle. The author has unearthed fascinating accounts of American students creating performance events out of the seemingly undramatic materials of the mathematics classroom and the mathematics textbook. This book should intrigue anyone with an interest in American history and will be of particular value to historians of mathematics and historians of education."
— David Lindsay Roberts, author of Republic of Numbers: Unexpected Stories of Mathematical Americans through History

Audience: College/higher education;