Mathematics for Sale: Mathematical Practitioners, Instrument Makers, and Communities of Scholars in Sixteenth-Century London

  • Lesley B. CormackEmail author
Part of the Studies in History and Philosophy of Science book series (AUST, volume 45)


“Mathematics for Sale” investigates the location of mathematics within London, arguing that the place and community for practical mathematics provided the foundation for the coffee house culture of the seventeenth century. This paper examines mathematical lectures and especially instrument-makers both inside and outside the City walls. In particular, Thomas Hood’s mathematical lectures started a trend of such events, followed by a proposal by Edward Wright and John Tapp to fund a lecture in navigation. Gresham College played a small part in housing mathematics instruction for the larger community, but it was in the instrument shops of instrument-makers like Elias Allen and Emery Molyneux that like-minded men gathered to discuss practical mathematics and instruments. Cormack identifies 85 different instrument-makers and mathematical practitioners with shops and rooms in London between 1550 and 1630. She thus discovers a vibrant practical mathematical community, whose members were gentry, scholars, merchants, instrument-makers, and navigators. This rich mathematical exchange laid the groundwork for the natural philosophical sociability of the seventeenth century. These early mathematically-minded men and their ideas, however, did not change natural philosophy in a direct way.


Seventeenth Century Sixteenth Century Mathematical Practice Title Page City Wall 
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Primary Sources

  1. Hood, Thomas. 1588. A Copie of the speache: made by the Mathematicall Lecturer unto the Worshipfull Companye present in Gracious Street the 4 of November 1588. London: Edward Allde.Google Scholar
  2. Tapp, John. 1613. The Path-Way to Knowledge. London: T: Purfoot, for Tho: Pauier.Google Scholar
  3. Wright, Edward. 1610. Certaine Errors in Navigation. 2nd ed. London: Felix Kingsto[n].Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of History and ClassicsUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada

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