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Mathematical Treasure: Thomas Harriot's Algebra

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University)

Thomas Harriot (ca. 1560-1621) was a British mathematician who possesses the distinction of being the first known mathematician to have worked, albeit as a surveyor, in the newly discovered territories of America. In his Artis analyticae praxis [Practice of the Art of Analysis], published posthumously in 1631, he attempted to establish a standardized system of algebraic notation. On page 7, Harriot demonstrated the addition of two binominals in pairs.

Here on page 22 of the Praxis, Harriot considered a fourth degree equation and showed its construction through multiplication of four binomial factors. As an exercise, a reader may wish to perform the expansion and check the author’s calculations.

Used by the permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C.

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University), "Mathematical Treasure: Thomas Harriot's Algebra," Loci (March 2014)