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The History of the History of Mathematics

Case Studies for the Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

Benjamin Wardhaugh

The writing of mathematical histories has a long history, one which has seldom received scholarly attention. Mathematical history, and mathematical biography, raise distinctive issues of method and approach to which different periods have responded in different ways. At a time of increasing interest in the history of mathematics, this book attempts to show something of the trajectory that history has taken in the past. It presents seven case studies illustrating the different ways that mathematical histories have been written since the seventeenth century, ranging from the ‘historia’ of John Wallis to the recent re-presentation of Thomas Harriot’s manuscripts online. It considers both the ways that individual reputations and biographies have been shaped differently in different circumstances, and the ways that the discipline of mathematics has itself been variously presented through the writing of its history.


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Vindicating Leibniz in the calculus priority dispute: The role of Augustus De Morgan 89


Adrian Rice Randolph-Macon College, Ashland, VA Vindicating Leibniz in the calculus priority dispute: The role of Augustus De Morgan Introduction It is today regarded as a matter of historical fact that Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz both independently conceived and developed the system of mathematical algorithms known collectively by the name of calculus. But this has not always been the prevalent point of view. During the eighteenth century, and much of the nineteenth, Leibniz was viewed by British mathematicians as a devious plagiarist who had not just stolen crucial ideas from Newton, but had also tried to claim the credit for the invention of the subject itself. Despite the fact that Newton was generally acknowledged to have developed his ‘method of f luxions’ several years previously, British writ- ers alleged that ‘ever since 1684, Leibnitz had been artfully working the world into an opinion, that he first invented this method’.1 It was also maintained ‘not only that Sir Isaac invented the method of Fluxions many years before Mr. Leibnitz knew any thing of it, but that Mr. Leibnitz took it from him’.2 In contrast, the actions of Newton were portrayed as ‘at all times dignified and just’, especially when compared to the underhanded 1 Charles Hutton, A mathematical and philosophical dictionary (2 vols, London: J. Johnson and G.G. & J. Robinson, 1795–6), vol. 2, p. 151. 2 John Nichols, Illustrations of the literary history of the eighteenth century, consisting of authentic memoirs and original letters of eminent persons, vol....

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