Roger Hart

Author, The Chinese Roots of Linear Algebra (Johns Hopkins UP, 2010)
Author, Imagined Civilizations: China, the West, and Their First Encounter (Johns Hopkins UP, 2013)
Professor, Department of History and Geography
Director, Texas Southern University China Institute
Texas Southern University
3100 Cleburne Street
Houston, TX 77004

Curriculum vitae (HTML with hyperlinks) (PDF)


Zengzi stated, “One who devotes oneself to service through learning cannot but be enormously resolute, for the mission is weighty and the journey is far. Taking humaneness as the mission to which one commits oneself, is that not weighty? Only in death does one cease, is that not far?” (Analects, 8.7)

The War Prayer, by Mark Twain

I. Research interests

Broadly speaking, the overall focus of my research is world history and globalization, addressing questions relating to the global circulation of scientific knowledge. My research and teaching interests include Chinese history, the world history of science, globalization, and critical theory.

II. Authored books

1. The Chinese Roots of Linear Algebra (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010, xiii + 286 pp.)

Chinese Roots of Linear Algebra shows that the essentials of the methods used today in modern linear algebra were not first discovered by Leibniz or by Gauss: the essentials of these methods — augmented matrices, elimination, and determinantal-style calculations — were known by the first century CE in China. This is the first book-length study in any language of linear algebra in imperial China; it is also the first book-length study of linear algebra as it existed before 1678, the date Leibniz, a Sinophile, began his studies. The central thesis of the book is that it was the visualization of problems in two dimensions as arrays of numbers on a counting board and the “cross multiplication” of entries that led to general solutions of systems of linear equations not found in early Greek mathematics. I began this research under a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship at the School of Historical Studies, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, and completed it under an ACLS/SSRC/NEH International and Area Studies Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies. More information on this research is available on the digital history website below. I am currently working on an article demonstrating that some of the linear algebra problems found in European treatises on algebra are from Chinese sources. Selected reviews:

“A pivotal work in the history of non-Western mathematics that will revolutionize people’s understanding of the origins of techniques previously viewed as Western inventions.” —Choice

“A beautifully written scholarly book in an area where books are scarce. Hart’s scholarship is impeccable and his precision is a delight. The Chinese Roots of Linear Algebra will be essential reading for those interested in the history of Chinese mathematics.” —John N. Crossley, Emeritus Professor, Monash University, co-author, with Kangshen Shen and Anthony W.-C. Lun, of The Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art: Companion and Commentary (Oxford University Press, 1999), and co-translator, with Anthony W.-C. Lun, of Chinese Mathematics: A Concise History (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987).

“[T]he study is carried out with an unprecedented degree of precision, erudition, and expertise, mathematical and sinological, superseding by far everything previously written on the subject by historians of Chinese mathematics. . . . But above all, the conclusions obtained by the author challenge those previously admitted in a convincing way.” —Zentralblatt MATH Database, Jean-Claude Martzloff, Directeur de recherche D.R.T.2.C., Centre de recherche sur les civilisations de l’Asie orientale, Collège de France, author of Recherches sur l'œuvre mathématique de Mei Wending, 1633–1721 (Paris: Collège de France, Institut des hautes études chinoises, 1981), A History of Chinese Mathematics (New York: Springer, [1997] 2006), and Le calendrier chinois: structure et calculs, 104 av. JC–1644 (Paris: Champion, 2009).

The Chinese Roots of Linear Algebra . . . is based on an astounding combination of erudition and expertise in both Chinese history and the practice and history of linear algebra. . . . Hart’s book is a unique and standout contribution to the history of science in what have been called ‘non-Western’ cultures.” --New Books in East Asian Studies, Carla Nappi, Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of British Columbia, author of The Monkey and the Inkpot‭: ‬Natural History and Its Transformations in Early Modern China (Harvard University Press, 2009).

“[A] really meticulous display of philology and mathematical reconstruction. . . . It seems likely that Hart’s thoughtful, meticulous book will be the precursor to much fruitful study not only of pre-modern Chinese mathematics but also the roles of literacy and notation in its transmission.” –Journal of the American Oriental Society, David Prager Branner, Grove School of Engineering, City College of New York, author of Problems in Comparative Chinese Dialectology (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2000).

“The Chinese Roots of Linear Algebra is a very useful and thought-provoking book.” —Loci: Convergence, Frank Swetz, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics and Education, Pennsylvania State University, author of The Sea Island Mathematical Manual: Surveying and Mathematics in Ancient China (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995) and Legacy of the Luoshu: The 4,000 Year Search for the Meaning of the Magic Square of Order Three (Chicago: Open Court, 2002).

“[A] challenging, inspiring book that is full of most valuable, new historical insights” —East Asian Science, Technology, and Medicine, Prof. Dr. Eberhard Knobloch, Universitäts- und Akademieprofessor, Institut für Philosophie, Literatur-, Wissenschafts- und Technikgeschichte, Technische Universität Berlin, author of Der Beginn der Determinantentheorie: Leibnizens nachgelassene Studien zum Determinantenkalkül (Hildesheim: Gerstenberg, 1980) and “Unbekannte Studien von Leibniz zur Eliminations- und Explikationstheorie,” Archive for History of Exact Sciences 12, no. 2 (1974): 142–73

The Chinese Roots of Linear Algebra chronicles the linear problems of ancient China in the Nine Chapters and supplies new insights about their solution. . . . Hart’s provocative book deserves to be in every college and university collection.” —Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society, Joseph F. Grcar, author of “How Ordinary Elimination Became Gaussian Elimination,” Historia Mathematica 38, no. 2 (2011): 163–218.

“[I]t is hard to doubt his conclusions. . . . This book is a worthy addition to the complete history of mathematics.” Charles Ashbacher, MAA Reviews, MathDL (Mathematical Association of America, Mathematical Sciences Digital Library).

Audio interview: “The Chinese Roots of Linear Algebra” with Professor Carla Nappi, July 27, 2012.

2. Imagined Civilizations: China, the West, and Their First Encounter (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013, x + 374 pp.)

Imagined Civilizations reexamines the advent of the Jesuits in seventeenth-century China, which has often been celebrated as the “first encounter” of two great civilizations, “China” and “the West.” Recent studies have argued that recognition of the superiority of Western science led a select group of concerned Chinese officials to convert to Catholicism. These studies have been based primarily on the prolific writings of the Jesuits themselves. Imagined Civilizations focuses on China, using Chinese primary sources, and the historical protagonists are the Chinese, who were in a position of considerable power over their Jesuit collaborators. The approach is microhistorical: instead of viewing this as a “first encounter,” this study critically analyzes how the protagonists imagined “the West” to further their purposes. The result is a perspective startlingly different from that found in previous studies based on Jesuit sources: while the Jesuits claimed them as converts, these Chinese officials represented the Jesuits as “men from afar” who had traveled to China to serve the emperor. The writings of the Jesuits, they argued, preserved lost doctrines from ancient China. Adopting these doctrines would help the dynasty return to the perfected moral order of ancient China, which they imagined existed in “the West,” where for over a thousand years there had been no wars, rebellions, or changes in dynasty. The extravagant claims of the superiority, newness, and practical efficacy of Western Learning (Xi xue 西學) made by these Chinese officials, who had little knowledge of Chinese sciences, were in historical context bids for patronage through memorials in which they fashioned themselves as statesmen with novel solutions to late-Ming crises.

Video lecture: “Imagining Civilizations: China, the West, and Their First Encounter,” presented at UCHRI's Seminar in Experimental Critical Theory VII, University of Hawaii at Manoa, August 1st, 2011.

3. The Spectre of Civilizations (in progress).

The Spectre of Civilizations takes as its starting point an observation that one might hope would be uncontroversial: “civilizations” are no less imagined than “nations.” During the later decades of the twentieth century, the term “imagined communities” (Benedict Anderson) gained considerable prominence through critical studies of various forms of nationalism. Yet assertions of the reality of “the West” were often reinforced in these same critiques (Anderson) and sometimes aggressively promoted (Gellner); despite the turn to critical theory in the late twentieth century, it was a continued credulity towards an imagined “West” that inflated the importance of the academic (and often arcane) criticisms of post-structuralism (Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze), post-colonialism (Prakash), and science studies (Latour). This book proposes to continue the project of critical theory and to explore what lies “past the last post-” by taking a critical approach to critical theory. Chapters include “How ‘Nations’ Became ‘Imagined’” (on Anderson); “From ‘Germanic Nations’ to ‘The West’” (on Hegel); “The Postmoderns’ ‘West’” (on Derrida, Foucault, Latour, et al.); and “Modernity by Contradiction” (on Habermas). In conclusion, I propose to extend the approach taken in critical studies of nations by applying the term “imagined” to civilizations and by analyzing statements about “the West” as performative acts of collective self-fashioning.

4. Tracing Practices: Global Circulations of Mathematics Before the Scientific Revolution (in progress).

Tracing Practices seeks to contribute to a rethinking of the world history of science in the pre-modern period and open up important new domains of inquiry into scientific practices and their global circulations. I propose to do so through research that emphasizes a series of shifts in focus: practices (vs. texts); practitioners (vs. literate elites); microhistory (vs. macrohistory); and shifting centers, networks, and global circulations (vs.“civilizations”). The starting point is evidence I have recently discovered that distinctive linear algebra problems with determinantal-style solutions recorded in Chinese mathematical treatises dating from the first century CE are recorded in Fibonacci’s treatises in the thirteenth century. This suggests that the assumption that other mathematical and scientific practices were not similarly transmitted should be reconsidered. To do so, we must reconsider the relationship between scientific practices, texts, and authorship during this period. Scientific practices of this period often did not depend on texts: the learning, teaching, and transmission of these practices did not require literacy; when these practices were recorded in texts, it was commonly for purposes of patronage or, less frequently, displays of expertise. That is, we must take care to distinguish clearly between the historical archive — in this case scientific writings that have been fortuitously preserved — and the world of scientific practice. Given this, it makes little sense for historians to obligingly grant credit for scientific discoveries to those who, in their pursuit of patronage, sought to claim that credit for themselves. It makes even less sense to attribute credit to what we now anachronistically call “China” or “the West” based merely on the earliest known extant text in which a practice is recorded. The assumption that specific scientific practices belong to “China,” “Islam,” or “the West” is an assumption, and only an assumption, one which resulted in part from the twentieth-century focus on civilizations and their comparison in the history of science. In sum, this book will question conventional assumptions about authors, texts, science, and civilizations, in order to explore positive new avenues for the study of the world history of science.

III. Selected articles

“The Diffusion of Linear Algebra from China to Medieval Europe” (14 typeset pages, submitted for review).

“Universals of Yesteryear: Hegel’s Modernity in an Age of Globalization,” in Global History: Interactions Between the Universal and the Local, edited by A. G. Hopkins (London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006), 66–97.

Quantifying Ritual: Political Cosmology, Courtly Music, and Precision Mathematics in Seventeenth-Century China,” to be included in Hart, Imagined Civilizations: China, the West, and Their First Encounter.

The Great Explanandum,” essay review of The Measure of Reality: Quantification and Western Society, 1250–1600, by Alfred W. Crosby, American Historical Review 105, no. 2 (April 2000): 486–493.

Translating the Untranslatable: From Copula to Incommensurable Worlds,” in Tokens of Exchange: The Problem of Translation in Global Circulations, edited by Lydia H. Liu (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000), 45–73. Earlier version published as “Translating Worlds: Incommensurability and Problems of Existence in Seventeenth-Century China,”Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique 7, no. 1 (spring 1999): 95–128. Reprinted in Han yi Ying lilun duben 汉译英理论读本 [Theoretical Reader on Translating Chinese into English], ed. Yu Shiyi 余石屹 (Beijing: Science Publications [Kexue chubanshe 科学出版社], 2008).

Beyond Science and Civilization: A Post-Needham Critique,” East Asian Science, Technology, and Medicine 16 (1999): 88–114. Earlier version published as “On the Problem of Chinese Science,” in The Science Studies Reader, edited by Mario Biagioli (New York: Routledge, 1999), 189–201. Translated into Chinese by Wan Yiji 万一己, in Zhongguo kexue yu kexue geming 中国科学与科学革命 [Chinese Science and Scientific Revolution], ed. Liu Dun 刘钝 and Wang Yangzong 王扬宗 (Shenyang: Liaoning jiaoyu chubanshe 辽宁教育出版社, 2002).

“Dui xiandaixing de shuangchong fouding queren: Habeimasi de chaoyan shili lilun de zixiang maodun” 對現代性的雙重否定確認:哈貝馬斯的超驗勢力理論的自相矛盾(上,下) [Modernity by Contradiction: Habermas’s Paradoxical Theory of Transcendental Power, Parts I and II, in Chinese]. Xueren 學人 [The scholars] 6 (1994): 425–43 and 8 (1995): 385–402. Global History: Interactions Between the Universal and the Local

IV. Digital history

Chinese Roots of Linear Algebra Digital History Website ( In order to help my technical research on the early history of Chinese linear algebra reach a broader audience, I am developing a digital history website to demonstrate the solutions to linear algebra problems in imperial China. (Note: this website is currently in its preliminary stages of development.)

V. Background and training

Before coming to Texas Southern University, I held the following positions (in reverse chronological order): Visiting Professor, Templeton “Science and Religion in East Asia” Project, Science Culture Research Center, Seoul National University; Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of Texas at Austin; Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of Chicago, in the Fishbein Center for the History of Science; National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow at the School of Historical Studies, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton; Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor in the Program in History and Philosophy of Science, Stanford University; Postdoctoral Fellow, Fairbank Center for East Asian Studies, Harvard University; Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Chinese Studies, UC Berkeley; Visiting Fellow, Department of the History of Science, Harvard University. I received my Ph.D. from the Department of History, UCLA. I earned my M.S. from Stanford in mathematics and B.S. from MIT in mathematics. I have spent a total of six years teaching, studying and researching in China.

VI. Conferences, lectures, and seminars

I have presented over fifty lectures on my work at various scholarly forums. In addition, I have also organized or co-organized several academic conferences and seminar series, including the following:

Disunity of Chinese Science” (University of Chicago, May 10–12, 2002);

Rethinking Science and Civilization: The Ideologies, Disciplines, and Rhetorics of World History” (Stanford, May 21–23, 1999);

Critical Studies: Writing Science” (Stanford University, 1998–1999);

Intersecting Areas and Disciplines: Cultural Studies of Chinese Science, Technology and Medicine” (UC Berkeley, February 27–28, 1998).

VII. Courses

Courses offered at Texas Southern University

Topics in Chinese History: Contemporary China” (Summer I, 2017).

History of Modern China” (Spring 2017).

Topics in World History: History of China Through Film” (Fall 2014, Fall 2015).

“Topics in World History: Introduction to the History of China” (Fall 2013).

Topics in World History: Imperial China” (Fall 2012; previously offered at the University of Texas).

Courses offered at Seoul National University

Contemporary Critical Theory: Science, Language, and Culture” (spring 2012; previously offered at Stanford, University of Chicago, and University of Texas).

Courses offered at the University of Texas

East Asia to 1800” (fall 2010, offered yearly).

History of Chinese Medicine” (fall 2010, previously offered spring 2008).

Traditional China” (spring 2011, offered yearly).

History of World Science to 1650” (spring 2011, offered yearly).

Cultural History of Late Imperial China” (fall 2009, previously offered in 2008).

Chinese Science, Technology, and Medicine” (fall 2006, previously offered at Stanford).

Global Interconnections” (MDV 392M and MDV 685L, a team-taught course organized by Prof. Geraldine Heng, spring 2004)

Imagined Unities: Nations, Civilizations, Modernities” (spring 2003; previously offered at Univ. of Chicago).

Cultural History of Ming China” (spring 2002).

Selected courses offered at the University of Chicago and Stanford University

An Introduction to Sources in the History of East Asian Science, Technology, and Medicine” (Univ. of Chicago, winter 2001).

The Scientific Revolution: History and Counter-History” (Univ. of Chicago, spring 2001).

Chinese Medicine: Interdisciplinary Studies” (Stanford, spring 1999).

Cultural History of Chinese Science, Technology, and Medicine” (Stanford, winter 1998).