Arch. Hist. Exact Sci. (2010) 64:485–523DOI 10.1007/s00407-010-0062-1
The natures of numbers in and aroundBombelli’s
Received: 1 September 2009 / Published online: 8 June 2010© Springer-Verlag 2010
The purpose of this article is to analyse the mathematical practicesleading to Rafael Bombelli’s
(1572). The context for the analysis is theItalian algebra practiced by abbacus masters and Renaissance mathematicians of thefourteenth to sixteenth centuries. We will focus here on the semiotic aspects of alge-braic practices and on the organisation of knowledge. Our purpose is to show howsymbols that stand for underdetermined meanings combine with shifting principles of organisation to change the character of algebra.
1.1 Scope and methodologyIn the year 1572 Rafael Bombelli’s
came out in print. This book, whichcovers arithmetic, algebra and geometry, is best known for one major feat: the ﬁrstrecorded use of roots of negative numbers to ﬁnd a real solution of a real problem.The purpose of this article is to understand the semiotic processes that enabled thisand other, less ‘heroic’ achievements laid out in Bombelli’s work.
Communicated by Niccolo Guicciardini.Part of the research for this article was conducted whilst visiting Boston University’s Center for thePhilosophy of Science, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science and the Edelstein Center forthe History, and Philosophy of Science, Technology and Medicine.R. Wagner (
)TheEdelsteinCenterfortheHistoryandPhilosophyofScience,TechnologyandMedicine,TheHebrewUniversity in Jerusalem, Givat Ram, 91904 Jerusalem, Israele-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org