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Mathematical Treasures - The Mathesis of William Jones

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University)

William Jones (1675–1749) was a Welsh mathematician who published the comprehensive Synopsis Palmariorum Matheseos in 1706. This book became a popular mathematical reference at the time. However, fellow mathematician Colin Maclaurin (1698–1746) found some of the text’s discussions mathematically weak and annotated an edition suggesting additions and changes. What may be best known about the book today is that it introduced the modern symbol for pi as the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, namely \(\pi.\) Excerpts from the 1706 publication of this rare book are examined here.

The Introduction to the first part of the work, on arithmetic:

Page 13 contains a terse discussion of the operation of subtraction.

Maclaurin’s comments abound on pages 24 and 25.

The content of page 46, on Euclidean geometry, demonstrates the style and format of formal geometrical presentations during this period of history.

The images above are provided courtesy of Columbia University Libraries, David Eugene Smith Collection.

Index to Mathematical Treasures 

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University), "Mathematical Treasures - The Mathesis of William Jones," Convergence (April 2018)

Mathematical Treasures from the Smith and Plimpton Collections at Columbia University