Selections from an essay on the role of mathematics in English universities

[Selections from an essay on the role of mathematics in university education. As a mathematician – among other things – John Dee was well regarded, but remained unemployed because (in part) of limited opportunity. At the same time, as a mathematician and an intellectual, he was treated with suspicion by the general populace. Poor students worked very hard for advancement, while the sons of the gentry passed through onto their entitlements and privileges. Both John Dee and Christopher Marlowe (mid to late 16th C.) went through as poor scholars.]

“At the beginning of the 16th century mathematics and the mathematical sciences were of minor importance in the two English universities. In theory, mathematics had a place in the university curriculum through the quadrivial arts of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music, but in practice the then traditional curriculum found little space for their teaching.”

“In addition to these institutional changes, contemporaries noted a gradual but pronounced shift in the social composition of the student body. The stereotype of the student as a poor scholar for whom university was a path to vocational (usually ecclesiastical) advancement was challenged by the presence of increasing numbers of sons of the gentry.”

“…At both Oxford and Cambridge, mathematics had a place on the margins of these reforms.”

“…Certainly, English university provision appeared weak and provincial when compared with the reformed universities of Germany, for example. Under Melanchthon’s leadership, the quadrivial arts (and especially astronomy) were given new institutional impetus by the creation of full professorships.”

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Chapter 1 (pp. 1-49) of Stephen Johnston’s , “Making mathematical practice: gentlemen, practitioners and artisans in Elizabethan England.” Ph.D. Cambridge, 1994.

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