1902 Encyclopedia > Algebra > History of Algebra - Thomas Harriot (1560-1621). Oughtread.

Algebra
(Part 11)



(B) HISTORY OF ALGEBRA

(x) Thomas Harriot (1560-1621). Oughtread.

The next great improver of algebra was Thomas Harriot, an Englishman. As an inventor he has been the boast of this country. The French mathematicians have accused the British of giving discoveries to him which were really due to Vieta. It is probable that some of these may be justly claimed for both, because each may have made the discovery for himself, without knowing what had been done by the other. Harriot's principal discovery, and indeed the most important ever made in algebra, was, that every equation may be regarded as formed by the product of as many simple equations as there are units in the number expressing its order. This important doctrine, now familiar to every student of algebra, developed itself slowly. It was quite within the reach of Vieta, who unfolded it in part, but left its complete discovery to Harriot.

We have seen the very inartificial form in which algebra first appeared in Europe. The improvements of almost 400 years had not given its notation that compactness and elegance of which it is susceptible. Harriot made several changes in the notation, and added some new signs; be thus gave to algebra greater symmetry of form. Indeed, as it came from his hands, it different but little form its state at the present time.

Oughtreed, another early English algebraist, was a contemporary with Harriot, but lived long after him. He wrote a treatise on the subject, which was long taught is the universities.





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