TitleThe Rhetoric of Problems in Algebra Textbooks from Pacioli to Euler
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsHeeffer, A

The selection of problems by Euler in his Vollständige Anleitung zur Algebra displays a great familiarity with the typical recreational and practical problems of Renaissance and sixteenth-century algebra books. A detailed study into the sources of Euler reveals that he copied most of his problems from Christoff Rudolff’s Coss which was first published in 1525 and reissued in 1553 by Michael Stifel. Why would Euler found his popular textbook on algebra on a book published 250 years before? We propose an explanation based on the evolving rhetorical function of problems in algebra textbooks since the Renaissance. We discern six stages in the evolution from abacus problem solving to algebraic theory. The first theory emerged through the extraction of general principles from the practice of problem solving. The algebra textbooks of the eighteenth century close a circle of continuous rhetorical development by using problems for practicing general principles and applying the algebraic language. Euler’s Algebra is a prime example of the new rhetoric of problems still prominent in today’s textbooks.

Citation KeyHeeffer2011
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