There are slides devoted to this topic: Lecture 0, pp. 3-6, Lecture 2, pp. 5-13.

There is a lab devoted to this topic.


ABACUS: The Art of Calculating with Beads is an award-winning hub of information about the abacus. The site includes the history of the abacus, detailed explanations of how to calculate on abaci, an interactive abacus, and an exhaustive collection of outside resources, articles, and curiosities.

The Abacus” article provides another historical look at the abacus.

Want to read more about how to use an abacus? Visit the page “How to use an abacus for a clear explanation of how to perform addition and subtraction on a Chinese abacus.

REVOLUTION,” the Computer History Museum‘s latest online exhibition, has several pages detailing the evolution and historical use of the abacus. The information given on these pages is not exhaustive, but does include interesting ephemera and some absolutely fantastic drawings, paintings, and photographs of the abacus and its users. Visit The Versatile, Venerable Abacus to read about the geographical range of the abacus. Then turn to The Original Pocket Calculator to find out more about portability in the design of the abacus and its successors.

If you’re interested in seeing more photographs of the abacus, visit the hobbyist site Tina’s Abaci. The site’s administrator has amassed a collection of abacuses that includes conventional Chinese suanpans, Japanese sorobans,and Russian schiotys, as well as more eclectic pieces, such as a pocket decimal abacus made out of K’nex.


If you’re a visual learner, you should check out the helpful video “The Abacus: How to Use this Ancient Wonder.” This demonstration covers addition and subtraction, first on the Japanese soroban and then on the Chinese suanpan.

Want to watch more videos about the mathematical possibilities of the abacus? Visit the Youtube Channel “How to Use a Counting Board Abacus” for very detailed explanations of operations spanning addition to base 60 division and square roots.

Amazing Abacus Math Video” shows a contemporary example of abacus usage; Chinese students who learn to use the abacus can quickly perform large calculations using only an imaginary, mental abacus.

Other Media

Visit the Interactive Abacus Simulator, a Java-based suanpan, to try the abacus out for yourself!

Journal Articles

“The Chinese Abacus” is a short article that provides the history, use, and applications of the Chinese abacus. The piece, which appeared in a 1981 issue of Mathematics in School, is easy to read and includes helpful pictures.

Read “The Chinese Abacus,” by R. Percival Maxwell

“The History of the Abacus” is a more detailed investigation of the roots of the abacus and its place in the development of number systems. This article discusses the abacus’s position and transformation in Babylonian, Egyptian, Greco-Roman, and European societies.

Read “The History of the Abacus,” by Keith F. Sugden

“Representing Exact Number Visually Using Mental Abacus” discusses the phenomenon of the mental abacus, or MA, as practiced by children in India. The article  comes from The Journal of Experimental Psychology and argues that MA is a nonlinguistic means of computation. The piece is not available online.

Request via Interlibrary Loan (ILL), “Representing Exact Number Visually Using Mental Abacus,” by Michael Frank and David Barner


The Abacus: its history, its design, and its possibilities in the modern world, by Parry Hiram Moon

The History of the Abacus, by J. M. Pullan