Friday, November 14, 2014

Ciphering Books

A handwritten page from a mathematical text, including a column of geometric figures.
Pike's Mathematical text
If you attended a school, college or evening mathematics class during the18th century, you would most likely have used a ciphering book rather than a textbook for your studies. A ciphering book was a manuscript notebook that contained mathematical definitions, rules, examples, problems and exercises. It would have included basic arithmetic, as well as more complex subjects including algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. In addition, a ciphering book often emphasized mercantile subjects such as barter, the calculation of interest and surveying. Copied by students, usually from a teacher's own ciphering book, the notebooks became the student's personal "textbook," to be used in class and also as a reference book later in life.

Ciphering books were always written in ink, often with calligraphy headings and illustrations. However, the quality of the script varied significantly.
An open book of handwritten text and geometric figures.
Woodward's "System of Plain Trigonometry"
It appears that Bezaleel Woodward, who would become a professor of mathematics and philosophy, as well as Eleazar Wheelock's son in law, took little care with the script in his notebook "A System of Plain Trigonometry," while he was a student at Dartmouth College. In contrast Samuel A. Kimball, who copied John Hubbard's "A System of Spheric Trigonometry," was more careful in the execution of his penmanship.
An open book of handwritten text and geometric figures.
Hubbard's "System of Spheric Trigonometry"
Another fine example of an 18th century ciphering book is James Pike's untitled volume. Pike was an educator from Somersworth, New Hampshire, who began teaching himself in 1798. The text is divided into chapters with increasing complexity and even has page numbers that are reflected in a contents page. Pike went on to publish two textbooks in his lifetime, The Columbian Orthographer in 1806 and The Little Reader in 1814.

According to a M.A. Clements and Nerida F. Ellerton, mathematics professors at Illinois State University, the use of ciphering books declined after 1840, due to the fact that they were no longer important in evaluating the quality of a student's learning or that of an instructor's teaching. In addition, they argue that state education leaders switched their focus from the individual student to that of a graded class.

To see these ciphering books ask for: MS-1271 (Pike) and Codex 802415.1 (Woodward). Kimball's cipher book is currently being re-cataloged.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Dartmouth Vietnam Project

A photograph of a small group of men in uniform walking past a protest.Fifty years ago, Robert B. Field Jr., a newly minted Dartmouth ’64, was nearing the end of Officer Candidate School at Naval Station Newport in Rhode Island. He was two months away from a training assignment in Brunswick, Georgia, and shortly after that, he would ship out of Norfolk, Virginia aboard the USS Long Beach. The Long Beach would travel widely with Field aboard — to Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in Puerto Rico, back to Virginia, through the Panama Canal, up the West Coast to its namesake city in California, a stop at Pearl Harbor, another at Subic Bay in the Philippines — but by the close of 1965, it would be en route to the Gulf of Tonkin, Vietnam.

A photograph of students perched in open windows from which a hand-made banner hangs.
As Field’s military service was unfolding, two Dartmouth ’68s were just beginning their studies. John C. Everett Jr. and John G. Spritzler both arrived on campus in the fall of 1964, and over the next four years, their paths would take markedly different turns. By 1969, Everett would be bound for Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, aboard the USS Gallup. Spritzler would be a committed anti-war activist and a central figure in a protest that defined an era in Dartmouth history: the seizure and occupation of Parkhurst Hall on May 6, and the ensuing standoff with police that lasted well into the night.

A photograph of a young man holding up a sign that reads "S.D.S. does not speak for me. I support the US Constitutional System and R.O.T.C."
Decades after the last American troops withdrew from Vietnam, all three men sat down with a member of the Class of 2016 to share their memories of the war. Their conversations were audio recorded, and along with three others, now comprise the first products of the Dartmouth Vietnam Project. The DVP, a collaborative effort involving Dartmouth students, faculty, and staff, seeks to preserve and share the stories of alumni and other members of the wider Dartmouth community who experienced the Vietnam War years firsthand. Students specially trained in the art of oral history conduct the interviews, and the resulting audio and text transcripts become part of a growing oral history collection at Rauner.

As of Veterans Day 2014, the first six interviews — Field, Everett, and Spritzler among them — are available on a dedicated DVP website ( In the coming months and years, more and more interviews from veterans, activists, and those with memories of the impact of the war on Dartmouth and American society in general will join the original six. If you or somebody you know has a story to share, visit