Visit of J.A. Stedall (Open University,
October 24-31, 2000
From October 24 until 31 2000, Jacqueline A. Stedall will visit the Netherlands
and give three lectures. The abstracts and the programme
of the talks one may find below.
Tuesday October 24, Groningen University staff colloquium
Lecture: ``Procrastination, incomprehension, misjudgment''
Wednesday October 25, Nijmegen University staff colloquium
Lecture: ``Moving the alps''.
Friday October 27, Amsterdam Free University in alliance with CWI and GMFW
Lecture: ``Wallis versus Vossius''. This talk will be kept within the special
history colloquium at the CWI.
Wallis versus Vossius: the beginning of the modern historical study of
When John Wallis, professor of geometry at Oxford, wrote A treatise of
algebra historical and practical (London 1685) he drew heavily on the
De scientiis mathematicis (Amsterdam 1650) of John Gerard Vossius, who
had been professor of history at Amsterdam. On one point, however, Wallis
disagreed with Vossius. It was the opinion of Vossius that the Hindu-Arabic
numerals were unknown in northern Europe before 1250 but Wallis argued
carefully and correctly for a much earlier date. In doing so he used a wide
range of evidence from a variety of sources, and devised methods and standards
which all subsequent historians have followed. He can therefore perhaps be
claimed as the first modern historian of mathematics.
Procrastination, incomprehension, misjudgment: the sorry tale of Thomas
Thomas Harriot was the finest English mathematician before Newton. He developed
far-reaching insights into the structure of polynomial equations, but
unfortunately he could not be persuaded to publish his work in his lifetime.
After his death his mathematics passed into the hands of editors who failed to
do it justice, and the original papers were then lost. John Wallis in 1685 tried
to restore Harriot's reputation but in such a xenophobic way that
his account was never taken seriously. A careful reading of Wallis's
account reveals that he understood Harriot's algebra better than
almost anyone but that, influenced by John Pell, he kept his real sources
secret. In doing so he did lasting damage to both his own reputation and
Moving the Alps: discovering the mathematics of John Pell
John Pell taught mathematics in Amsterdam and Breda from 1642 to 1649. After
his return to England he was highly regarded as a mathematician but published
little to justify his reputation, and is perhaps the most enigmatic and
under-researched of all the seventeenth-century English mathematicians. Recent
examination of his papers has revealed that some of his work did find its way
into print in John Wallis's A treatise of algebra, though usually
without any mention of Pell's name. This new research raises a number of
questions about Pell's contacts in Holland, his strange attitude to publication
and the extent of his influence on Wallis.