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History of Mathematics
Mathematics in Western Europe - Intrigue and Integration



Mathematics in Western Europe - Intrigue and Integration
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 9 to 12
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   10.26

Vocabulary
     challenging words:    differentiation, gottfried, mid-15th, price-lists, tax-collector, equation, brilliance, multiplication, rift, geometry, discredit, following, probability, mathematical, calculus, mathematics
     content words:    Sometimes Arabic, Italian University, North Africa, Johannes Widmann, John Napier, William Oughtred, Blaise Pascal, Isaac Newton, Principia Mathematica, Perhaps Newton


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Mathematics in Western Europe - Intrigue and Integration
By Colleen Messina
  

1     The newly invented Arabic numbers arrived in Europe around 1200 AD. However, they were not popular right away. Intrigue and opposition accompanied the change from the old Roman numbers. Sometimes Arabic numbers had to sneak into a country via a mathematician. One case of this was when a Christian monk named Adelard of Bath disguised himself as a Muslim and studied in the University of Cordova in the 12th century. He secretly translated the works of Euclid and smuggled his translations back to Britain. The difficulties continued into the 14th century as some insisted on keeping the old system. An Italian University said that price-lists for books must still be in Roman numerals!
 
2     One mathematician who promoted the use of the new numbers was an Italian named Leonardo de Pisa. He became most commonly known by his nickname, Fibonacci. Fibonacci was the son of an Italian diplomat and grew up in North Africa in the late 12th century. He learned about Arabic numbers as a young boy and later wrote an influential book about practical geometry. In it, he encouraged the use of the new Arabic numbers. He also estimated the value of pi as 3.1418. Our value today is 3.14159265.
 
3     With the encouragement of mathematicians like Fibonacci, Europeans finally adopted the new numbers. By 1400, grateful merchants in Italy, France, Germany, and Britain used them for accounting. European mathematicians made amazing progress in many areas of mathematics and science between 1200 and 1700 AD because of the new number system. Schools taught the new arithmetic throughout Europe. Most textbooks used the new numbers by the mid-15th century.
 
4     The new textbooks also adopted convenient shortcuts for writing equations for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. These symbols were invented for practical reasons, and the + and - signs were first used in warehouses. Workers painted the plus sign on a barrel, for example, to show that it was full. The + and - signs first appeared in print in 1526 by Johannes Widmann in a German math book. The signs for multiplication and division came later, and the equal sign was first used in England in 1557. These symbols also led to the algebra we recognize today. By 1600, letters were used to represent unknown amounts in equations.
 
5     Logarithms were also invented at this time. Logarithms are intriguing numbers because if you add two of them together, you can solve complicated multiplication and division problems! A Scottish mathematician named John Napier first published a table of these numbers in 1614, and soon books of logarithms became available. Electronic calculators replaced logarithms by the 1970s, but for centuries, "logs" simplified complex calculations.

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