The Birth Of Calculus (BBC, 1986)

Wonderful BBC documentary about the independent discovery of calculus by Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz.

What makes it most special to me is inclusion of the original texts from Newton and Leibniz, where we see, in their own handwriting, how their thoughts evolved.

I especially love the discussion about Leibniz, as it shows how the Greek method of exhaustion for determining area under a curve was formalized mathematically via the concept of “omnia l” leading to the first use of what we now know to be the integral symbol, as well as the notation for a differential: dx.

Lastly, as we just completed our studies of the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus in my AP Calculus AB course, seeing the writings of these great men and how they helped unify integral and differential calculus, from very different perspectives, is fascinating.


About Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher

Secondary math teacher teaching math intervention, algebra 1, honors precalculus, and AP Calculus AB. I spent 25 years in high tech in engineering, marketing, sales and business development roles in the satellite communications, GPS, semiconductor, and wireless industries. I am awed by the potential in our nation's youth and I hope to instill in them the passion to improve our world at local, state, national, and global levels.
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4 Responses to The Birth Of Calculus (BBC, 1986)

  1. mrdardy says:


    Thanks for this link. I am certain that I’ll be sharing it with my students and with my colleagues.


  2. Jim says:

    The assertion that Newton and Leibniz independently discovered calculus, while not totally false, is an extremely simplistic description of a very complex history with roots in antiquity.


    • Of course, Jim. They built off of similar bodies of knowledge, as do all mathematicians.

      They even corresponded with each other leading to accusations that Leibniz stole ideas from Newton; there are many similar cases of intrigue and outright deception in the evolution of mathematics and other sciences.

      However, there are many other treatises that delve into the historical record of the calculus in much more detail that discuss these two and others, such as a monk in the early 14th century whose work foreshadowed Newton’s and Leibniz’s.

      Nonetheless, it is true that they separately conceived of, and uniquely approached, unresolved questions of their day leading to what we now call differential and integral calculus.

      Any other key detail(s) important to point out?


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