Wednesday 28 September 2022

The First Illustrated Arithmetic, and Common Long Division

I was researching problems related to the harmonic mean (more of which I hope to share in a later blog or blogs) when I came across a note in David E. Smith's "History of Mathematics" (There are actually used copies for a nickel!) about Filippo Calandri's 1492 arithmetic, Trattato di aritmetica. Smith cites it as the first "illustrated" arithmetic, and checking around, David Singmaster seems to agree.
An actual copy is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and they have some images from the woodcuts in the book posted here . The cut above was the one of interest to me as it describes a "cistern problem" which was one of the common recreational problems since the First Century, and one of the problems I was researching when I came across this. The book has another first, it seems to have been the first book to publish an example of long division essentially as we now know it.
Here are some additional notes from my web notes on division that pertain to the long division algorithm and five early methods that were used.

..... is the true ancestor of the method most used for long division in schools today, and was called a danda, "by giving". In his Capitalism and Arithmetic, Frank J Swetz gives “The rationale for this term was explained by Cataneo (1546), who noted that during the division process, after each subtraction of partial products, another figure from the dividend is ‘given’ to the remainder.” He also says that the first appearance in print of this method was in an arithmetic book by Calandri in 1491. The method was frequently called “the Italian method” even into the 20th century (Public School Arithmetic, by Baker and Bourne, 1961) although sometimes the term “Italian method” was used to describe a form of long division in which the partial products are omitted by doing the multiplication and subtraction in one step.

The early uses of this method tend to have the divisor on one side of the dividend, and the quotient on the other as the work is finished, as shown in the image below taken from the 1822 "The Common School Arithmetic : prepared for the use of academies and common schools in the United States" by Charles Davies. Swetz suggests that it remained on the right by custom after the galley method gave way to “the Italian method” in the 17th century. It was only the advent of decimal division, he says, and the greater need for alignment of decimal places, that the quotient was moved to above the number to be divided. In a recent Greasham College lecture by Robin Wilson at Barnard's Inn Hall in London, he credited the invention of the modern long division process to Briggs, "The first Gresham Professor of Geometry, in early 1597, was Henry Briggs, who invented the method of long division that we all learnt at school." (I assume he means with the quotient on top.)

I recently found a site called The Algorithm Collection Project. where the authors have tried to collect the long division process as used by different cultures around the world. Very few of the ones I saw actually put the quotient on top as American students are usually taught. In one interesting note, a respondent from Norway showed one method, then explained that s/he had been taught another way, and then demonstrates the common American algorithm, but adds a note that says, “but ‘no one’ is using this algorithm in Norway anymore.” I might point out that the colon, ":" seems to be the division symbol of choice if this sample can be generalized as it was used in Norway, Germany, Italy, and Denmark. The Spanish example uses the obelisk (which surprised me as it was used almost exclusively in English and American textbooks, and even then seldom beyond elementary school), and the other three use a modification of the "a danda" long division process. The method labled "Catalan" is like the "Italian Method" shown above where the partial products are omitted.

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