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Mathematical Treasure: LeDuke's Arithmetical Questions

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University)


John LeDuke, the author of Arithmetical Questions, or a Plain and Familiar Way to Common Arithmetic (1663), described himself as a French teacher from Colchester. While this may appear a curious qualification for the author of a mathematics text, LeDuke was an educated man who apparently consulted various available sources and compiled Arithmetical Questions. The latter part of the seventeenth century was a period of intellectual ferment in the British Isles. It was an age of exploration, conquest, and new ideas. Books such as LeDuke’s were in great demand as the gentry sought to keep abreast of the new sciences especially “the mysteries of arithmeticks.”


This view of the last page of the “Table of Contents” and the first formal page of the text provide a sense of the scope and content of Arithmetical Questions. Note how LeDuke described arithmetic as “the art of numbering,” which was comprised of five operations. A discussion of fractions was considered advanced knowledge and left as the subject for an Appendix.


On pages 16 and 17 of his Arithmetical Questions, Le Duke provided information about the existing British monetary system and listed the popular arithmetical abbreviations of the period.

These images are provided courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. You may use them in your classroom; all other uses require permission from the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The Mathematical Association of America is pleased to cooperate with the Beinecke Library and Yale University to make these images available to a larger audience.

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University), "Mathematical Treasure: LeDuke's Arithmetical Questions," Loci (August 2013)