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Mathematics was born and nurtured in a cultural environment. Without the perspective which the cultural background affords, a proper appreciation of the content and state of present-day mathematics is hardly possible.
In The American Mathematical Monthly, March 1994.
Logarithms: The Early History of a Familiar Function
About the Authors and More Information on Sources
About the Authors
Kathleen M. Clark is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education and a core-faculty member in the FSU-Teach program at Florida State University. Her research interests include: the impact of the study of history of mathematics on teachers' mathematical knowledge for teaching, the ways in which teachers use history in the teaching of mathematics, and the practices and development of mathematics teacher educators.
The portraits of Napier and Bürgi in Figures 1 and 5 are from the MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive (http://www-history.mcs.st-and.ac.uk/). The portrait of Bürgi in Figure 5 also is in the Convergence Portrait Gallery.
A transcription of Booke I of Wright’s 1616 translation of Napier's 1614 Mirifici logarithmorum canonis descriptio, titled A description of the admirable table of logarithms, is available from http://www.johnnapier.com/ The transcription itself begins at http://www.johnnapier.com/table_of_logarithms_001.htm
Translations into English of very brief passages from Napier's 1614 Descriptio also appear in the following sources.
Fauvel, John, and Jeremy Gray (1987). The history of mathematics: a reader. London: Macmillan and Milton Keynes: The Open University, pp. 296-297.
Stedall, Jacqueline (2008). Mathematics emerging: a sourcebook, 1540-1900. Oxford University Press, pp. 39-42.
Translations into English of parts of Napier's 1619 Mirifici logarithmorum canonis constructio (Construction of the wonderful table of logarithms) appear in the following sources.
Smith, D.E. (1959). A source book in mathematics. New York: Dover Publications, pp. 149-155.
Struik, Dirk J. (1969). A source book in mathematics, 1200-1800. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, pp. 12-21.
The following book contains a translation into English of the entire Mirifici logarithmorum canonis constructio.
Macdonald, William R. (1889). The construction of the wonderful canon of logarithms by John Napier, Edinburgh and London: W. Blackwood and Sons.
A copy of Napier's Mirifici logarithmorum canonis constructio from 1620 is available from Google Books.
Finally, modern translations of both the Descriptio and the Constructio by Ian Bruce are available from Bruce's "Some Mathematical Works of the 17th and 18th Centuries" (http://www.17centurymaths.com/) website.
Clark, Kathleen M. and Clemency Montelle, "Logarithms: The Early History of a Familiar Function," Loci (June 2010), DOI: 10.4169/loci003495