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Arithmetic, Numeracy, Literacy & Imagination: A Research Guide

This guide provides access to a wide variety of print and electronic resources related to the history of arithmetic and its business applications that are available at the Library of Congress.


Frances Benjamin Johnston, photographer. Classroom scenes in Washington, D.C. public schools: general classroom scenes, 1st Division. ca. 1899. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

This guide includes resources related to arithmetic, numeracy, literacy, and imagination, a cluster of subjects drawn from materials on the history of business arithmetic in the Science, Technology and Business Division. Business arithmetic intersects with an array of disciplines, from education and vocational training to political and technological applications of arithmetic techniques; yet much of the Library's holdings on these topics from the 18th century to the present have been understudied. This Research Guide aggregates a thorough, though not exhaustive, selection of textbooks, business guides, and other documents on the history of business arithmetic for the benefit of research in several subject areas. This guide is of use to those working onsite, with access to the Library’s expansive holdings, while also serving as a reference source for those not working at the Library of Congress.

This guide is organized with sections on General Books, Business Arithmetic, and Crowd Counting. Together, these sections show how vocational training became integrated with disparate areas due to the education, dissemination, or application of arithmetic in the last few centuries. The Business Arithmetic section examines the mutual development of mental arithmetic and practical mathematics as joint educational reforms that brought business practices into the teaching of arithmetic; while Crowd Counting & Estimation follows the business of counting into the political arena to explore how scientists, mathematicians, or other professionals throughout the centuries have estimated crowd sizes for major events, such as inaugurations of presidents, by deploying arithmetical concepts such as numeracy, equations, density, and area. The history of business arithmetic encompasses diverse skills—from numeracy to imagination—as well as diverse counters, from pupils to scientists.

The Library of Congress’s Business Reference Services site also provides a wealth of information. For further information on this subject, use the Library of Congress online catalog.

2021 Junior Fellows Amal Charara and Sean DiLeonardi worked with science, technology and business materials related to the history of arithmetic in order to examine how and why we count. Techniques of counting follow us everywhere, from the classroom to the counting house, yet much of the Business Division's holdings on these topics from the 18th century to the present remain understudied. (Event date: July 21, 2021)

About the Business Section

Part of the Science & Business Reading Room at the Library of Congress, the Business Section is the starting point for conducting research at the Library of Congress in the subject areas of business and economics. Here, reference specialists in specific subject areas of business assist patrons in formulating search strategies and gaining access to the information and materials contained in the Library's rich collections of business and economics materials.