I am doing my MSc in mathematics/statistics, and a large part of it concerns fractal geometry.

I want to include some background of how early geometry arose, why fractals were largely neglected, and finally how they found new use/interest in the 20th century. I want to do this because it interests me a lot and I feel it helps explain the role fractal geometry plays.

I am concerned with whether or not this is in bad taste though? Presumably a master's thesis, especially in mathematics, should be concerned with the work you are doing and not a history lesson.

So basically my question is: Is it acceptable for an MSc/MPhil student in maths (or other science) to include a historical background to the subject they are studying?

  • 2
    Yes. A short historical review is usually not a bad thing. But you should ask your advisor, and follow their advice.
    – Ink blot
    Jul 25, 2017 at 23:21
  • Agreed with Ink: This is something you should ask your advisor about.
    – GEdgar
    Jul 26, 2017 at 0:02

3 Answers 3


I did something similar with my own MS thesis because the history of my particular field was not well known and somewhat interesting (the algorithms were independently discovered 4 times in different fields starting 1927 until it finally caught on). More importantly, it helped explain what I was doing. If it fits in with your narrative and your advisor is okay with it, then go ahead.

  • +1: The crucial point is "If it fits in with your narrative", IMO. Everything put in a publication has to have a purpose to be there; otherwise, should be omitted.
    – Our
    Jul 25, 2021 at 8:27

Yes. But you would be well-advised to concrentrate on the technical contribution first. You should include the literature review anyway, btw. The advisor has the final word anayway.


I've written three theses now and in all three I've including a section that outlines the history of the work, leading up to my work so it is clear to the reader where the work to come fits in to the bigger picture.

When I was writing my theses, the reader I had in mind was someone who was me before I started the project work so it was important for me to signpost the key points to make their launch into the research that little bit more comfortable than what mine was.

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