Your Eighteenth-Century Mathematicians

This assignment is due on Friday, September 19. It involves doing some basic research on two mathematicians and reporting on that research. Your report will consist of a one-page biography and a one-page bibliography for each of your mathematicians. These summary biographies and bibliographies will be distributed to the class and used as a resource throughout the course. In addition, when we discuss your mathematicians you will be asked, as the ``resident expert,'' to say something about them.

Here are some specifics:

Your eighteenth-century mathematicians are:


  1. Look up your mathematicians in the Dictionary of Scientific Biography, which is available in the reference area in Miller Library. Read the articles and take notes. The bibliographies in the DSB are often very useful.

  2. Look up your mathematicians in an encyclopedia. Record, for your bibliography, the name of the encyclopedia, date of publication, volumes, pages, and authors (signed articles are more reliable). Read the articles and take notes.

  3. Note any discrepancies between the above sources. How do you decide which is more reliable?

  4. Are there any books in the Colby library about either of your mathematicians? Are there any books by your mathematicians? Make sure those get listed in your bibliography.

  5. Try to find information on your mathematicians in the World Wide Web. (A search on ``History of Mathematics'' is a good way to start.) For the bibliography, record the URLs; since the web changes so quickly, indicate also the date on which you accessed the page. Try to find out who is the author of the information on the page, and which institution, if any, sponsors it. Read the information, take notes, and compare with what you already know.

  6. Look up your mathematicians in Dauben's The history of mathematics from antiquity to the present : a selective bibliography (on reserve in the Science library). This might point to other relevant articles or books that you might want to consult or list. Another source of this kind is the Companion Encyclopedia to the History and Philosophy of Mathematics, ed. by I. Grattann-Guinness, which is in the reference area in the Olin library.

  7. Have your mathematicians' collected works been published? Does our library have a copy?

  8. Write a one-page biography of each of your mathematicians. By this point, this should be an exercise in selecting and summarizing information. Your biography should include an outline of the person's life and a summary of his or her contributions to mathematics, science, and other fields. Attach a one-page bibliography.

  9. Your writing should be concise and clear, but it must also be precise. Don't say things you don't mean. Be particularly careful with the description of your mathematicians' scientific work--it's easy to say things that aren't correct.

  10. Carefully document your biography. Don't quote without attribution. When you mention some fact that is not common knowledge, indicate its source. Your references should be specific enough that your readers can find the information for themselves (for example, when quoting from a book a page number is essential).

    After you turn in your biographies and bibliographies, I will grade them and return them to you for revision. You will then turn in 11 copies of the revised version; these will be later distributed to the class.

    Fernando Q. Gouvêa ----
    Last modified: Tue Sep 16 09:21:26 1997