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Whipple Library

Department of History and Philosophy of Science

Peter Guthrie Tait was considered one of the best university lecturers of his time, and representative of a Scottish-Cambridge university education (as Thomson and James Clerk Maxwell were). Besides T&T’, Tait produced several other treatises and textbooks. He made fundamental contributions to the theory of quaternions, an advanced algebra that gave rise to vector analysis and was instrumental in the development of modern mathematical physics.

His Elementary Treatise on Quaternions, first published in 1867, and expanded in later editions of 1873 and 1890, was inspired by his study of William Rowan Hamilton’s Lectures on Quaternions (1853) which convinced Tait of the utility of this new algebra in solving physical problems. This copy has had a leaf of workings, seemingly written in George Darwin’s hand, pasted in.


 An elementary treatise on quaternions, by P.G. Tait
Oxford, At the Clarendon Press, 1867.
First edition


After the publication of T&T’, Tait concentrated on studies of thermoelectricity and thermal conductivity. His Sketch of thermodynamics grew from two articles he had written on the dynamical theory of heat and the science of energy, both published in 1864 in the North British Review. It was initially prepared as an elementary textbook to support Tait’s teaching at Edinburgh, until the subject could be treated more fully in a later volume of the Treatise on natural philosophy. However, no further volumes of T&T’ appeared. This was the first textbook for students explicitly on the subject of thermodynamics, but it faced some controversy for what was seen as its strong British bias. Signed ‘G.H. Darwin august 1869,’ it contains several marginalia.

Sketch of thermodynamics, by P.G. Tait
Edinburgh, Edmonston and Douglas, 1868.
First edition


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