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Mathematical Treasure: Barrow on the Benefits of Mathematics Education

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University)

Isaac Barrow (1630-1677) may be best known as the Lucasian Professor who eventually relinquished his position at Cambridge University to his brilliant student Isaac Newton. However, he was an innovative mathematician in his own right. An aspect of his career that is little known was his effort to institutionalize and broaden the study of mathematics at Cambridge. The small book pictured above, listing Isaac Barrow as its author, is the 1734 edition of The Usefulness of Mathematics Learning Explained and Demonstrated. Originally published posthumously in 1685, it carried on Barrow’s message of the importance of mathematics. Its contents were culled and translated from Lectiones mathematicae, Barrow’s mathematics lectures given at Cambridge University in the years 1664-1666. The compilation was made by the London publisher Stephen Austin.

The first page of the Table of Contents listing six of the lectures that had been translated from their original Latin into English is shown above. In total, the book contains 29 such lectures and a translation of Isaac Barrow’s inaugural address, which he gave on the formal occasion of becoming a Professor at Cambridge University.

The Special Collections staff at the Linderman Library of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is pleased to cooperate with the Mathematical Association of America to exhibit this and other items from the Library’s holdings in Mathematical Treasures. In particular, Convergence would like to thank Lois Fischer Black, Curator, Special Collections, and Ilhan Citak, Archives and Special Collections Librarian, for their kind assistance in helping to make this display possible. You may use these images in your classroom; all other uses require permission from the Special Collections staff, Linderman Library, Lehigh University.

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University), "Mathematical Treasure: Barrow on the Benefits of Mathematics Education," Convergence (May 2014)