Mathematics and mourning: Textbook burial and student culture before and after the civil war, 1853-1880

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© 2017 History of Education Society. In nineteenth-century America, students buried their mathematics books. This practice consistently celebrated the milestone of passing through collegiate mathematics, yet it changed due to national events. This article considers the case of Bowdoin College, where students buried their books differently before and after the Civil War. Antebellum, they observed a complex “Burial of Calculus” with songs, parades, and mock prayers. Postbellum, students personified their books as a woman, placing stones marked “Anna” on the textbooks’ graves. Using archival investigations of students’ pamphlets and textbooks, this paper argues that these changes resulted from the war’s effects on education as well as changing attitudes toward death. Both the antebellum and postbellum rituals communicated understandings of mathematics and academic achievement, as connected through a mock funeral ritual. Through investigating these connections, this paper asserts the importance of student practices for our understanding of Civil War era education.

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History of Education Quarterly