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Mathematical Treasure: Rathborne's Surveyor in Four Books

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University)

Aaron Rathborne (1572-1618) described himself as “A gentleman practitioner in the mathematiques.” In 1616 he published The Surveyor in Foure Bookes, deemed at the time to be the most complete book on surveying in the English language. Today a copy of this book is considered quite rare. For historians of surveying, it presented the first complete picture of a seventeenth century surveyor at work and of his instruments. The frontispiece has a structure supported by two allegorical figures of Arithmetica and Geometria surmounted by celestial and terrestrial globes. The upper vignette depicts an experienced surveyor trampling “fools and dunces underfoot.” The Surveyor was one of the first books to strongly advocate the use of mathematics in survey projects. In his book, Rathborne presented the basic principles of geometry and discussed their applications in surveying. He advocated use of the recently introduced decimal arithmetic of Simon Stevin (1585) and urged the employ of the “new pocket” tables of logarithms.

After his closing statements, the author faulted the fall of Adam for any existing errors in the work and attached some errata. A portrait of Rathborne looks on approvingly from the page above.

These images are provided courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. You may use them in your classroom; all other uses require permission from the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The Mathematical Association of America is pleased to cooperate with the Beinecke Library and Yale University to make these images available to a larger audience.

Index to Mathematical Treasures

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University), "Mathematical Treasure: Rathborne's Surveyor in Four Books," Convergence (July 2014)