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Title: English Numeracy and the Writing of New Worlds, 1543-1622
Authors: Wilde, Lisa Jennifer
Advisors: Smith, Nigel
Contributors: English Department
Keywords: Arithmetic
Early modern
Subjects: British and Irish literature
History of science
History of education
Issue Date: 2014
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: English Numeracy and the Writing of New Worlds, 1543-1622 explores the surprisingly intimate connection between evolving mathematical thought and the early modern literary imagination. While the story of Renaissance mathematical advance--the heady sweep of discovery leading from the spread of Hindu-Arabic computational techniques, through the development of algebra and onward to Newton's discovery of the calculus--has long been a standard part of the grand narrative of Western science, it is also the case that in England this process of elite intellectual advance was supported throughout by a parallel revolution in popular numerical literacy. Over the decades 1540-1630, that revolution swept away traditional medieval systems of Roman numeration and established a populace both familiar with and surprisingly engaged in the new and powerful forms of Hindu-Arabic calculation. Reading early arithmetic manuals in conjunction with recent research in the cognitive science of mathematics, I show that this culture-wide transition involved not just the simple acquisition of a new vocabulary of arithmetical signs, but a powerful shift in the cognitive modeling of number itself--a radical re-imagination of structures of quantity, proportion and growth that at once presented an urgent challenge to traditional conventions of quantitative expression and opened up a wildly diverse field of novel rhetorical possibilities. A careful examination of the period's many overlapping popular rhetorics of number reveals a far livelier and more complex story of mathematical advance, as the persuasive forms of the new arithmetic (worked out alike in mercantile pamphlets and popular sermons, the poetry of Gascoigne and Donne and the drama of Marlowe, Middleton and Jonson) prove fertile ground for explorations not only of the nature of the ordinate and rational, but also of the inordinate, the monstrous and the insane. The early modern mathematical revolution thus emerges as in every sense a literary phenomenon, in which established conventions of rhetorical structure and expression lend themselves to shape the new math even as forms of computation offer novel possibilities for re-envisioning internal and external worlds.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:English

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