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Robert Recorde

Robert Recorde: The Life and Times of a Tudor Mathematician

Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
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  • Book Info
    Robert Recorde
    Book Description:

    The inventor of the equals sign (=), Robert Recorde (1510?-1558) was the first English-writing mathematics educator: this book celebrates his work.

    eISBN: 978-0-7083-2527-8
    Subjects: Mathematics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Notes on contributors
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  7. Editorial conventions
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  8. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    A criticism often levelled at Recorde was that he was not a first-rate mathematician and that his contribution to the development of mathematics was minimal. In 1920 Frank Morley dismissed his mathematical work as being ‘hardly memorable’¹ and shades of such criticism are not uncommon even today.

    The flaw in such remarks is not that they are incorrect but that they completely miss the point. Recorde himself made no claim that he was pushing forward the frontiers of mathematics. He was, rather, a communicator of mathematical ideas who sought to explore ways in which to make mathematical knowledge and skills...

  9. ONE The lives and works of Robert Recorde
    (pp. 7-24)

    The conference referred to in the Introduction marked the 450th anniversary of the death of Robert Recorde. It is therefore appropriate to open this first chapter with an account of that event. We have Recorde’s undated will, probate for which was first granted on 18 June 1558. A second probate was granted on 6 November 1570, but more of that later. The will was made while Recorde served time as a debtor in the King’s Bench Prison² at Southwark, south London, unable to pay a fine of £1,000³ imposed as a result of his having been found guilty of slandering...

  10. TWO Robert Recorde and his remarkable Arithmetic
    (pp. 25-38)

    It is not just for the alliteration that we have inserted the word ‘remarkable’ into the title of this chapter; we believe it is truly deserved. As far as we know, it was the first home-grown Arithmetic in English; it was preceded by Cuthbert Tunstall’s text of 1522 in Latin,¹ and by the anonymously writtenAn Introduction for to Lerne to Rekyn with the Pen and with Counters, first published in 1536/7, which, although in English, was largely a translation from Dutch and French texts of the same title.

    Recorde gave highly imaginative titles to all his works, grabbing the...

  11. THREE Recorde and The Vrinal of Physick: context, uroscopy and the practice of medicine
    (pp. 39-56)

    In 1935 Sanford Vincent Larkey, an American scholar and librarian, jointly authored (with F. R. Johnson) an early work on Recorde.¹ Larkey was unusual for his time in taking a serious interest in lesser-known figures in the history of science and medicine, and in using bibliographical skills – too often taken for granted by other scholars – to reconstruct the routes by which major figures, such as Copernicus and Vesalius, reached a wider audience.² Albeit on a lesser scale, Larkey’s approach was similar to that of one of the twentieth century’s pioneers of the social history of medicine, Henry Sigerist,...

  12. FOUR The Pathway to Knowledg and the English Euclidean tradition
    (pp. 57-72)

    Robert Recorde’sThe Pathway to Knowledg, the second of his mathematical textbooks, was published in 1551, some eight years afterThe Ground of Artes. Its metaphorical title reinforces the trope of mathematical discovery as a journey, an adventure even: the student well grounded in arithmetic was now ready to set out in a new direction, towards mastery of geometry. ThePathwaywas the first textbook of geometry for English readers, and for that reason alone is historically fascinating. It can also be seen from a different perspective, however, as one of many texts in a long line of translations, editions...

  13. FIVE The Castle of Knowledge: astronomy and the sphere
    (pp. 73-92)

    Robert Recorde’sThe Castle of Knowledgewas published in 1556, just a few years after the appearance of Nicolaus Copernicus’De revolutionibus orbium caelestium(1543). As one of the first books to comment publicly on the new heliocentric theory, Recorde’sCastlehas attracted regular attention since the nineteenth century. When significance in the history of science was judged only by an author’s contribution to progress, the way to assess a sixteenth-century astronomy textbook was by its stance on Copernicanism. Thus, for the earliest historians who examined theCastle, the questions seemed simple and stark. What side of the fence was...

  14. SIX The Whetstone of Witte: content and sources
    (pp. 93-122)

    In 1557, barely a year before his death, Recorde published his most noted work,The Whetstone of Witte, in which he presents algebraic ideas in the vernacular. Best known for its introduction of the sign ===== to indicate equality, the work has a number of other remarkable features, explored in this chapter. The chapter also reveals some of Recorde’s sources and compares them with Recorde’s own formulations.

    In the Preface to the second book in his earlier work on geometry,The Pathway to Knowledg,¹ Recorde had already indicated his intention to publish a book on algebra, which was to include...

  15. SEVEN The Welsh context of Robert Recorde
    (pp. 123-144)

    Robert Recorde, bornc.1510¹ into a merchant family in Tenby, Pembrokeshire, south Wales, has a well-deserved reputation as a major figure in sixteenth-century learning, whose achievements in the field of science, and in mathematics in particular, were given contemporary recognition.² Despite his birth in Tenby, however, perceived influences upon his emergence as a sixteenth-century mathematician have not often included Wales. Quite apart from Recorde’s educational experience at the English universities of Oxford and Cambridge, which have been taken to be his primary inspiration,³ historical interpretation of Wales during the sixteenth century has presented it as an impoverished country, marginal in...

  16. EIGHT Commonwealth and Empire: Robert Recorde in Tudor England
    (pp. 145-164)

    Let me begin by noting very briefly a few key features of the condition of the England where Robert Recorde spent most of his life. During the decades from the mid-1520s to the late 1550s this England experienced political turbulence, religious change and considerable economic stress. Henry VIII, having failed to persuade Pope Clement VII to grant him a divorce from his first wife, withdrew his kingdom from obedience to Rome and embarked upon a quasi-Protestant Reformation. The process was accompanied by assertions of the doctrine known as ‘imperial kingship’: that ‘this realm of England is anempire[my italics]’...

  17. NINE Data, computation and the Tudor knowledge economy
    (pp. 165-188)

    From his birth in Tenbyc.1510 to his death in Southwark in the summer of 1558, Robert Recorde lived through ‘interesting times’:¹ the turmoil of the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary. Elizabeth was crowned some six months after Recorde’s death and her reign saw important events and changes in which we can trace Recorde’s influence.

    In this chapter I consider the historical and intellectual context of Robert Recorde’s work in terms of the new role that mathematical and computational ideas and methods were beginning to play in the society and economy of Europe. The sixteenth century saw...

  18. APPENDIX From Recorde to relativity: a speculation
    (pp. 189-200)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 201-218)
  20. Index
    (pp. 219-232)