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Mathematical Treasure: Jeremiah Day's Introduction to Algebra

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University)

Figure 1. Title page of Jeremiah Day's Introduction to Algebra, written for use with students at Yale and other American colleges

Jeremiah Day  (1773-1867) served as President of Yale University from 1817 to 1846. During his tenure at Yale, he was also a Professor of Mathematics and Natural Science. He wrote his Introduction to Algebra in 1814 for the use of his students. This work borrowed heavily from the French algebra texts of the time. Day defined algebra as “a general method of investigating the relation of quantities, principally by [the use of] letters.” This book became very popular and went through many editions. The title page of the thirteenth edition (1834) is shown above. Other editions of this text are available as Google Books.

Figure 2. Here on pages 16-17 of his Introduction to Algebra, Day discussed negative quantities. The use and teaching of positive and negative values in mathematics was a pedagogical issue at this time.

Yale College took many steps toward becoming a university during Day’s tenure as president (1817-1846). The Theological Department (which would become the Yale Divinity School) was founded in 1822 and the Law School in 1824. The Medical Institution of Yale College had opened in 1813 and the Department of Philosophy and Arts (which would become the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences) would be formed in 1847. Read more Yale history and see Landmarks in Yale’s history. See portraits of Day and other Yale University presidents, 1701–2013.

The two images above are presented courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania. You may use them in your classroom and/or for private study; for all other purposes, please seek permission from Archives and Special Collections, Waidner-Spahr Library, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA.

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University), "Mathematical Treasure: Jeremiah Day's Introduction to Algebra," Convergence (February 2014)