A Matter of Recorde His Invention = a Symbol Everyone Could Count on; TOWN CELEBRATES BIRTH IN 1510 OF MATHEMATICS GENIUS

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), August 24, 2010 | Go to article overview

A Matter of Recorde His Invention = a Symbol Everyone Could Count on; TOWN CELEBRATES BIRTH IN 1510 OF MATHEMATICS GENIUS


Byline: RACHAEL MISSTEAR

WITHOUT it, mathematics would look very different.

But thanks to the invention of the equals sign by a Welshman centuries ago, two small parallel lines are now universally accepted to represent equality in maths.

This week, the 500th anniversary of the birth of the mathematician Robert Recorde will be celebrated in his home town of Tenby.

Recorde - a doctor, astrologer and controller of the Royal Mint - was also the first to write books on arithmetic in English, rather than Greek or Latin, so ordinary people could understand them. Tenby Museum is holding an art exhibition and offering a chance to read Recorde's work.

Copies of his original books have been republished thanks to the painstaking work by Derbyshire couple Gordon and Liz Roberts, who developed a fascination with Recorde after a visit to Tenby several years ago.

Recorde, who was the son of the mayor of Tenby, was born there in 1510 and went to study at Oxford aged 15.

He has been celebrated not just for his learning but for being ahead of his time in the teaching of maths.

In his 1557 work, The Whetstone of Witte, he writes of the new sign: "Because noe 2 thynges can be moare equalle."

Although best known as the equals sign's inventor, Recorde was also responsible for bringing the use of algebra to English readers and devising the method of extracting the square root as it is used today.

"He was the founder of the English School of Mathematics, and the first person to write a mathematical book in English that was understandable to the ordinary person," said Sue Baldwin, honorary librarian at Tenby Museum.

"If you didn't know anything of Greek and Latin in those days, you'd have no chance of studying mathematics."

As part of the celebrations, Mr and Mrs Roberts will be presenting a guide to Recorde's work, alongside his original books on display.

The couple have re-created facsimile copies of Recorde's mathematical works, republishing the original 16th century text and drawings. "It started when I did a mathematics degree and as part of that I studied the history of mathematics," said Mr Roberts.

"One of the people to be studied was Robert Recorde and I became fascinated with not just his works but by those of all of the 16th century mathematicians. I thought how nice it would be to hold in my hands and read their original works, but it is almost impossible to get hold of them as they are all now in the great museums. I thought 'What if we could republish them?'" Having visited Recorde's stomping ground in Tenby, the couple were galvanised in their mission to republish the books, which will now be accessible at the town's museum. …

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