When Hairdressers Were Computers

Some mathematicians pay attention to hairdressers more than other mathematicians do. Two modern scholars focused their attention very differently when they wrote about history’s most famous numerico-tonsorial collaboration.

In 1784, mathematicians joined forces with hairdressers on a scale probably never attempted before or since. A century and a half later, Raymond Clare Archibald looked back at it in wonder. Archibald’s monograph called Tables of Trigonometric Functions in Non-Sexagesimal Arguments spanned 12 full pages in the April 1943 issue of the about-as-lively-as-you-might-expect journal Mathematical Tables and Other Aids to Computation….

So begins this week’s Improbable Research column in The Guardian.