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Topic: History Question
Replies: 2   Last Post: Feb 1, 1999 11:58 PM

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Karen Dee Michalowicz

Posts: 215
Registered: 12/4/04
Re: History Question
Posted: Feb 1, 1999 11:58 PM
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According to
> I have heard several times that the curriculum at the newly
> established Harvard (1600s) included the study of fractions.
> Does anyone know if there is documentation for this or if this is a
> misconception, where the documentation for this misconception has
> its basis?
> Connie Yarema

I have a nice collection of old textbooks. It is not unusual
tofind the study of fractions at the college level. I do not
have anything from the 1600's. In fact, in my reference work
on mathematical works printed in America to 1850 by Karpinski,
there isn't even a book in English listed until l703. The rest
are in Spanish. In fact the first book printed in the "New
World" was printed in Mexico in the 1500's. It took another 200
years to find a book printed in the colonies.

The arithmetics of the 1700 and 1800's were pretty
sophisticated including the double rule of three and extracting
cube roots. These were not designed for primary students. In
fact, students in the l700's had their own copy books, as
did Abraham Lincoln in the early 1800's. Books were rare and
expensive. Lincoln only went to
school formally for his fourth grade year. The Library of
Congress has two pages of this cipher book on line. It is the
oldest Lincoln memorabilia.

It does appear that during the 18th century "college" math did
become more sophisticated.

For more information about the pedagogy and content in l9th
century texts see the chapter I wrote with Arthur Howard in the
reference work in print by NCTM entitled A Recent History of
Mathematics Education in the United States and Canada.


Karen Dee Michalowicz Adjunct Faculty
Upper School Mathematics Chair George Mason University
The Langley School Fairfax, VA
McLean, VA

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