By Jacqueline A. Stedall
Historia Mathematica, Vol. 28 (2001)
Abstract: In A treatise of algebra both historical and practical (London 1685), John Wallis wrote the ﬁrst survey of the state of mathematical learning in medieval England, and discussed with particular care the arrival and signiﬁcance of the Hindu–Arabic numeral system. This paper offers a detailed commentary on Wallis’s account in relation to the sources he used and the 17th-century Oxford context in which he wrote. The paper also supplements Wallis’s treatment where possible with some of the ﬁndings of modern scholarship. It therefore provides on the one hand an overview of the spread of mathematical learning into medieval England, and on the other an insight into late 17th-century historiography. Wallis pioneered several new historiographical methods and can perhaps be claimed as the ﬁrst modern historian of mathematics.
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