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Mathematical Treasure: French Mathematical Encyclopedias

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University)

Encyclopédie Méthodique par Ordre des Matières (Methodical Encyclopedia by Order of Subject Matter) was published in the period 1782-1832. It was intended to be an extension of the Encylopédia by Denis Diderot and Jean Le Rond d’Alembert. The first volume of “Mathématiques” (1784) is examined here.

Title page of 1784 volume “Mathématiques” from the Encyclopédie Méthodique

Although d’Alembert is often listed as its sole author, eleven leading French mathematicians contributed to the volume. The list of principal authors is provided here.

List of authors of 1784 volume “Mathématiques” from the Encyclopédie Méthodique

The noted mathematician and textbook writer Abbé Charles Bossut (1730-1814) composed the volume’s introduction.

Introduction page from 1784 volume “Mathématiques” from the Encyclopédie Méthodique

Dictionnaire des Jeux Mathématiques was published during 1798-1799 as an addendum to the “Mathématiques” volumes in the encyclopedia. It included the latest developments in analysis, calculus, numerical tables, and probability, including very recent work on “chance and combinatorics.”

Title page of 1798-99 addendum to “Mathématiques” from the Encyclopédie Méthodique

This material is obtained through the courtesy of the Peabody Library of Johns Hopkins University. The first volume of "Mathématiques" and the addendum Dictionnaire des Jeux Mathématiques can both be viewed in their entirety at Google Books.

Index to Mathematical Treasures

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University), "Mathematical Treasure: French Mathematical Encyclopedias," Convergence (June 2018)