Reading Euclid: Euclid's Elements of Geometry in Early Modern Britain
Euclid's Elements of Geometry has enjoyed a very long history of use and study from Hellenistic Alexandria to the present day. For many centuries it has been both a canonical mathematical text and an important element in the reception of ancient thought. It has been read as a practical and a theoretical text; it has been studied for its philosophical ramifications and for its perceived potential to inculcate logical thought. It has also been critically important in the teaching of mathematics at many times and places. For the historian, it represents a location where history of mathematics meets history of ideas; where the history of the book meets the history of practice.
Nowhere was this more so than in the early modern period when the Elements was particularly visible, with nearly 200 printed editions appearing between 1500 and 1700. It was an absolutely crucial part both of the mathematical culture of the period, and of the construction of the ancient Greek past by early modern thinkers. In fact, it was embedded in early modern culture, and read by individuals ranging from schoolchildren to elite astronomers, from popular playwrights to learned philosophers. If Copernicus's De revolutionibus was the book that 'nobody read' (as Gingerich memorably put it), Euclid's Elements was the one that everybody read.
No mathematical text had such an impact on early modern culture, yet the early modern reception of the Elements has never received sustained scholarly attention. Commencing in October 2016, this two-year AHRC-funded project remedies this gap in scholarship.