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Re: History Question
Posted:
Feb 1, 1999 11:58 PM


According to connie.yarema@math.acu.edu: > > 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



