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The Four Curves of Alexis Clairaut: Conclusion

Taner Kiral (Wabash College), Jonathan Murdock (Wabash College), and Colin B. P. McKinney (Wabash College)

Again, we have prepared both a French transcription (pdf) and English translation (pdf) of “Quatre Problèmes sur de Nouvelles Courbes.” We hope that his paper has given you a window into Clairaut’s young genius; even today, it would be exceptional for a twelve-year-old to be able to read this work, much less produce it!

Many of the problems given by Clairaut would find themselves very much at home in a calculus classroom, either as interesting curves for implicit differentiation exercises, or for topics on integration. The curves could be taken out of context for this purpose. But pay attention to the reactions of the students: the exceptionally curious might like to see the fuller background. Do this especially for students who have (or want to) study French, and share it with your colleagues in French!

We certainly encourage the reader to also look at Descartes and perhaps even Guisnée. The ability for us to access these works and others through Google Books and Gallica was absolutely indispensable to the project. So many works are available digitally, and even in machine-searchable formats, that finding material inside a work is easy. We were fortunate to have the two eulogies pointing us to Guisnée, but a quick search for “genre” took us to the exact pages we needed.

Taner Kiral (Wabash College), Jonathan Murdock (Wabash College), and Colin B. P. McKinney (Wabash College), "The Four Curves of Alexis Clairaut: Conclusion," Convergence (November 2020)