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To arrive at the simplest truth, as Newton knew and practiced, requires years of contemplation. Not activity. Not reasoning. Not calculating. Not busy behaviour of any kind. Not reading. Not talking. Not making an effort. Not thinking. Simply bearing in mind what it is one needs to know. And yet those with the courage to tread this path to real discovery are not only offered practically no guidance on how to do so, they are actively discouraged and have to set about it in secret, pretending meanwhile to be diligently engaged in the frantic diversions and to conform with the deadening personal opinions which are continually being thrust upon them.
The Laws of Form, 1969
Learning Geometry in Georgian England
Further Reading / About the Author
For more about everyday mathematics in Georgian England see Benjamin Wardhaugh, Poor Robin’s Prophecies: A curious Almanac, and the everyday mathematics of Georgian Britain (Oxford, 2012). A sister article to this one is about to appear in ‘Plus’; it will discuss how arithmetic was learned in Georgian England.
Thomas Porcher’s and Robert Gardner’s copy-books are in a private collection; namely, mine! You may use my photographs of the copy-books in this article in your classroom, but please contact me, Benjamin Wardhaugh, for permission to use them for any other purpose.
The quotes from John Arbuthnot are from his Essay on the Usefulness of Mathematical Learning (Oxford, 1701). There’s a great little book about English mathematical schoolbooks: John Dennis, Figuring it out: children’s arithmetical manuscripts 1680–1880 (Huxley Scientific Press, 2012); and for America there’s also Nerida Ellerton and Ken Clements, Rewriting the history of school mathematics in North America 1607–1861 (Springer, 2012).
About the Author
Benjamin Wardhaugh lives in Oxford, England. He trained in mathematics, music and history, and has taught both science to historians and history to mathematicians. He is a Fellow of Wolfson College, where he studies and writes about history, particularly its mathematical parts.
Wardhaugh, Benjamin, "Learning Geometry in Georgian England," Loci (August 2012), DOI: 10.4169/loci003930