Rouse History of Mathematics

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There are a series of articles transcribed by Dr. David R. Wilkins ( School of Mathematics Trinity College, Dublin at

They all start with a line:

From `A Short Account of the History of Mathematics' (4th edition, 1908) by W. W. Rouse Ball.

Are they fair game to grab as source material for our wikipedia? I know we are scarfing stuff from the 1911 encyclopedia, this is from 1908, so it should be under the same lack of restrictions....

It's not that simple, actually. the 1911 encyclopedia is known to be in the public domain; but the 1908 text might not be. It depends on how long the author lived, whether the copyright was transferred and when; if it falls under one or several of the various acts extending copyright, etc. Please do not add anything from it unless you can find out for certain that it is in the public domain. Many wikipedians have discussed this on wikipedia-L and come to the conclusion that we probably need a lawyer's help--or the help of Project Gutenberg--to find out.

As far as searching the copyright website goes, good luck. You'll need it. ;-) --KQ

Damn- You weren't kidding!!! That copyright db was useless. OK, how about an email to Dr. Wilkins. If he's willing to undertake the task of transcribing these Histories, he may either own the rights, or know who does. --Eventi

It seems that W. W. Rouse Ball died in 1925, so the work is almost certainly out of copyright. Of course, it would be a good idea to further verify this before using the material.
Zundark, 2001-08-20

I think an e-mail to Dr. Wilkins is probably a good idea. --KQ

Since I'm a lousy letter writer (but a not-half-bad editor;) how about a collaborative email? /Open letter --Eventi

Sure, here's a rough draft for you. --KQ

Hell, maybe we should suggest it get considered for submission into Project Gutenberg, if it's Public Domain! It's obviously useful! And I believe we might be able to get Project Gutenberg to help us out here (and take the legal blame, too...) I believe they want a photocopy (not a scan) of the title page and inside-title-page for 'Title Page and Verso' or TPV, to be sent in a vividly coloured envelope. Try for more info.

I think we should be helping ALL Open Source / Public Domain sources here... especially when it helps us! But if that makes it complex, then...

Just my two small pieces of worthless metal ... Dave McKee

Dr Wilkins just responeded. (10-2-01) Here's the reply

Dear Sirs,

My apologies for delaying overlong on the response to your e-mails
regarding Rouse Ball's History of Mathematics.  My excuse is that
they were sent to me in August, at a time when I was away from Dublin
for a few months, and I never got round to the task of dealing fully
with over a thousand e-mails that awaited me on my return.

In reply to your specific query:

   Walter William Rouse Ball lived from 14 Aug 1850 to 4 April 1925.

You will find these dates on the [[MacTutor]] History of Mathematics website,
specifically at

You will note that Rouse Ball has been dead for over 70 years, and therefore
his works would therefore have entered the public domain under EU copyright
law and international copyright conventions.

I have not recently made the effort to double-check these dates, through
you should be able to find an entry for Rouse Ball in some dictionary of
scientific biography.

I do recall, though, that, when the duration of copyright was lengthened
from 50 to 70 years after the death of the author, I did do my own check
and found that Rouse Ball had been dead for just over 70 years; this
would have been around 1995/6.

The copy I have used has the following information on its title page:




and, over the page

    First Edition 1888.
    Second Edition 1893.
    Third Edition 1901.
    Fourth Edition 1908.

Of course, with a book of this age, any copyright in the `typographical
arrangement' under British and Irish copyright law would have lapsed
long ago: such copyright lasts for at most 50 years (under the most
recent Irish legislation), and in any case such copyright is only
violated by `reprographic' copies, made for example with a photocopying
machine, or photographically.

If you are intending to quote, I seriously advise you to consult a
printed text, to ensure accuracy of the quote.  You might note that
the edition that I have used has also been photographically reproduced
by Dover Publications.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. David Wilkins,
School of Mathematics, Trinity College, Dublin 2, Ireland.

sounds good, no? --E