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April is the something month

T.S. Eliot might have called it the cruellest, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped a lot of people from using April to celebrate a lot of things. Jazz. Gardens.

And poetry, mathematics, and food, too. To celebrate April, the exhibit cases in the Great Room of the Consortium Library now have displays of some volumes from the Rare Books collection related to these topics.  Everything from a Latin translation of Euclid’s Elements, to a 1973 Poetry Society of Alaska publication of Alaskan haiku.  And since the Public Health folks have claimed a week of their own in April (4/5-11), we’ve put in a few medical manuals too such as an 1875 treatise on disease prevention and treatment.

The math primers are a treat, really.  Way back yonder, this archivist started out her college career as a math major. I could do quadratic equations in my sleep (certainly that might explain why I didn’t end my college career as a math major).  So I was amused to look at one of the books (Todhunter’s Algebra for beginners) and find the following introduction to quadratic equations:

A quadratic equation is an equation which contains the square of the unknown quantity, but no higher power.

Todhunter's Algebra for beginners

Todhunter's Algebra for beginners

I’m glad to see math tuition has changed somewhat since 1872 when this primer was published because had my junior high teachers introduced me to quadratic equations with that kind of language, I never would have made it out of high school. I was happy to discover I could still follow the example, though, so maybe some things just stick with you.

Another math text from the 1780s, aimed at a “United States” audience, had some great story problems. Like: if your garrison of 200 men had sufficient provisions (note it’s all in the old script so it looks like “fufficient provifionf” which just adds to the charm)  for 5 months, how many men would you have to get rid of to have sufficient provisions for for 9 months?  You can see how residents of the new United States who would still have lingering memories of places like, say, Valley Forge in winter, might find this a useful exercise!

Be sure to go take a look. And if it inspires you to do some quadratic equation solving, or write a poem, or cook up oxtail soup, share it with us. Well, all but the oxtail soup, as food and rare books aren’t such a favorable combination.

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