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A Calculating People: The Spread of Numeracy in Early America [Book Review]

Kousser, J. Morgan (1984) A Calculating People: The Spread of Numeracy in Early America [Book Review]. American Historical Review, 89 (1). pp. 203-204. ISSN 0002-8762.

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Although England contained only a relative handful of "mathematically minded" men in 1700, Americans by 1840 had become inveterate, if often uncritical, consumers of numbers. How and why this came about and what the change reveals about American society is the subject of Patricia Cline Cohen's path-breaking and insightful book. Lacking a simple index of "numeracy," such as the ability to inscribe one's name on a form, which students of literacy have employed, Cohen has perforce to broaden her definition and her sources. By numeracy she means not higher mathematics but, on the one hand, the ability to perform basic arithmetic calculations and the belief that the study of mathematics was important and suitable for children, and, on the other hand, a delight in numbers and a fascination with quantifiable social facts. Her method is to analyze deeply certain episodes that she takes to be emblematic, such as the smallpox inoculation controversy in Boston in 1721 and the scandalous overestimate of northern black insanity in the 1840 census, as well as to examine changes in arithmetic texts, reference and accounting books for tradesmen, and governmental data gathering from seventeenth-century England through eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century America.

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Additional Information:© 1984 Oxford University Press. Book review of: Patricia Cline Cohen. A Calculating People: The Spread of Numeracy in Early America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1982. ISBN: 9780226112831
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ID Code:41813
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Deposited On:09 Oct 2013 18:25
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 05:52

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