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Author Topic: THE RENAISSANCE  (Read 4140 times)
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« Reply #45 on: October 17, 2008, 06:56:41 pm »

                                      Histories of Science in Early Modern Europe

Robert Goulding
University of Notre Dame

In 1713, Pierre Rémond de Montmort wrote to the mathematician Nicolas Bernoulli:

"It would be desirable if someone wanted to take the trouble to instruct how and in what order the discoveries in

mathematics have come about. . . . The histories of painting, of music, of medicine have been written. A good

history of mathematics, especially of geometry, would be a much more interesting and useful work. . . . Such a

work, if done well, could be regarded to some extent as a history of the human mind, since it is in this science,

more than in anything else, that man makes known that gift of intelligence that God has given him to rise above

all other creatures."1

Such a history of mathematics was attempted by Jean-Etienne Montucla in his Histoire des mathématiques (first printed in 1758, and reissued in a [End Page 33] greatly expanded form in 1799).2 Montucla's great work is generally acknowledged as the first genuine history of mathematics. According to some modern historians, previous attempts at such a history had amounted to little more than collections of anecdotes, biographies or exhaustive bibliographies: "jumbles of names, dates and titles," as one writer in the Dictionary of Scientific Biography characterized them.3 Montucla, on the other hand, was thoroughly animated by the Enlightenment project expressed in Rémond's letter, and his Histoire was a philosophical history of the "development of the human mind," as he himself described it.4

It was precisely Montucla's vision of what mathematics meant and his conviction that mathematics itself must change in order to reflect the historical elevation of the human intellect, that allowed him to transform the scattered dates and anecdotes of his predecessors into a genuine history. All subsequent histories of mathematics—until the most recent social histories5 —have been in a sense "footnotes to Montucla."
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