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Mathematical Treasure: Davies' American Textbooks

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University)

Charles Davies (1798-1876) was a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, who returned to teach there as a mathematics professor. His career as a teacher at West Point spanned the period 1816-1837. Both as a student and a professor at the Academy, Davies became aware of the attraction and usefulness of French mathematics texts and began translating and adapting them for American students. He soon became the most popular American author of mathematics texts designed for higher education. His partnership with the book publisher A. S. Bames also helped to promote his texts.

Charles Davies' Elements of Descriptive Geometry was originally published in 1826. The title page shown above is from the second edition of 1839. While study of this subject was not yet widespread in the United States, it was considered important for military engineers.

A list of Davies' book series is given opposite the first page of the Preface, shown above.

The first page of the text proper is shown above.

Shown above is a plate of illustrative projection drawings from Elements of Descriptive Geometry.

Davies’ Elements of the Differential and Integral Calculus was first published in 1836. The book shown above is the 1840 edition.

A student of calculus will recognize some of the topics listed in the "Table of Contents" of Elements of the Differential and Integral Calculus, of which three pages are shown above and below.


The title page shown above is that of Elements of Algebra, Davies' translation of Louis Marie Bourdon's Élémens d'algèbre (1817) used at the École Polytechnique. Davies published his book in 1840. Bourdon's book was widely admired for its excellence and became a classic in the instruction of algebra.

The Special Collections staff at the Linderman Library of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is pleased to cooperate with the Mathematical Association of America to exhibit these and other items from the Library’s holdings in Mathematical Treasures. In particular, Convergence would like to thank Lois Fischer Black, Curator, Special Collections, and Ilhan Citak, Archives and Special Collections Librarian, for their kind assistance in helping to make this display possible. You may use these images in your classroom; all other uses require permission from the Special Collections staff, Linderman Library, Lehigh University.

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University), "Mathematical Treasure: Davies' American Textbooks," Loci (June 2014)