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Mathematical Treasure: Hulsius on Mechanical Instruments

Author(s): 
Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University)

Levinus Hulsius (1546-1606) was born in Ghent and died in Frankfurt. Little else is known about him other than that he authored a collection of three treatises, Tractat der Mechanischen Instrumenten (1603-04).  In one treatise he discussed the use of mathematical instruments in the guiding of artillery. In some editions of the treatise, the title page illustration was somehow set and printed upside down.

Title page of second treatise from Tractat der Mechanischen Instrumenten, 1603-1604

The same illustration also appeared in the text itself in its correct posture:

Image of inclinometer used with cannon from Tractat der Mechanischen Instrumenten, 1603-1604

Another treatise contained an illustration demonstrating the use of a grid in the sketching of an object:

Image of man using grid to accurately sketch a scene from Tractat der Mechanischen Instrumenten, 1603-1604

The images above were obtained through the courtesy of the Erwin Tomash Library on the History of Computing, Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota.

Erwin Tomash (1921-2012) was a pioneering computer scientist, helping launch the U.S. computer industry from the 1940s onward. During the 1970s he became interested in the history of computer science, and founded the Charles Babbage Society, and its research arm, the Charles Babbage Institute. The Institute, an archive and research center, is housed at the University of Minnesota. Its Erwin Tomash Library on the History of Computing began with Tomash's 2009 donation to the Institute of much of his own collection of rare books from the history of mathematics and computing. (Source: Jeffrey R. Yost, Computer Industry Pioneer: Erwin Tomash (1921-2012), IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, April-June 2013, 4-7.)

Index to Mathematical Treasures

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University), "Mathematical Treasure: Hulsius on Mechanical Instruments," Convergence (August 2018)

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