John Hersee Collection of Manuscript Exercise Books

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The Hersee manuscript collection extends to nearly two hundred volumes from one hundred and forty authors. The exercise books are predominantly restricted to mathematical subjects and applications, although a few include elements of other subjects such as writing, poetry, music, history, scripture and geography. The range of mathematics is restricted to elementary subjects: predominantly arithmetic and mensuration but also some geometry, trigonometry and algebra, and applications, particularly commerce and accounting, but also gauging (excise measurements), surveying and navigation. A handlist is available on the Special Collections web pages.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Hersee (1930 - 2005) was a first-class honours mathematician from the University of Oxford, who started his professional career as a schoolmaster in Sheffield. He moved to Clifton College, Bristol, in 1959, and subsequently became involved in both national and international mathematics curriculum developments, culminating in his ten-year appointment from 1975 as Executive Director of the influential School Mathematics Project (SMP). He also played a leading and energetic role through various offices for the Mathematical Association, and was fittingly elected as its President for 1992-3. By this time he was working in mathematics teacher education at the University of Bristol. This was his last professional role, until he became seriously affected by Parkinson's disease. He spent the last few years of his life in a nursing home, as the disease took its increasing toll.


The content of each numbered box largely follows the alphabetical ordering by author. Each book included in the Hersee catalogue is identified by an upper-case letter and a number, using the author's surname, where known, or a for anon. and Sa for "several authors". For multiple-volume authorship a single number is followed by a lower-case alphabetical sequence. The storage of the exercise books largely follows this alphabetical and numerical sequence, which matches the ordering in the Hersee catalogue. A first editing of the Hersee catalogue was undertaken in 2010 by Dr Jacqueline Stedall. This work standardised the layout for each book under the headings: Item, Date, Author, Place, Contents, Notes and Sources. The "Sources" are the authors of textbooks which provided the substance for much of the copying in the exercise books. One name - Francis Walkingame - is predominant throughout on the basis of his hugely popular Tutor's Assistant, from 1751 through to the late-nineteenth century. All the exercise books are paginated in pencil and their alpha-numeric identifier is added, all largely by Hersee himself. Very detailed lists of contents are available for each book in the catalogue. The remaining exercise books will be catalogued along the same lines before transfer to the Special Collections. The current Hersee catalogue will undergo a second editing now that all the entries have been checked against the exercise books themselves.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open to bona fide researchers

Acquisition Information

In 2004, through negotiations with his daughter Margaret, John Hersee's entire collection of mathematical works (both published and manuscripts) was generously donated to the Mathematical Association. From 2005 the published mathematical works were transferred to the University of Leicester Library. In January 2012 the collection of manuscript exercise books was transferred to the Special Collections of the University Library. Although the University of Leicester Library holds the collection, ownership remains with the Mathematical Association.

Other Finding Aids

A handlist is available through the University of Leicester website at:

Custodial History

John Hersee had a long-standing interest in the history of mathematics education. This interest extended to the accumulation, at his Bristol home, of fine collections of published mathematical books from the seventeenth century and mathematical manuscripts from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In 2004 the collection was donated to the Mathematical Association and transferred to the Archive Room in the Association's office in Leicester. This room was formally named the John Hersee Room at a special ceremony on 4 June 2005, as a fitting tribute to his outstanding work for, and his exceptional donation to, the Association. From 2005 onwards, the Mathematical Association looked to process and accommodate the John Hersee Library of published works. As the University of Leicester Library had housed the Mathematical Association Collection since the 1940s, it was appropriate that the published works from the collection should be transferred to the University Library. Antiquarian publications were transferred to the Library's Special Collections, whilst newer publications were added to the open shelves of the Library. The collection of manuscript exercise books remained in the John Hersee Room, in nine crates largely packed alphabetically by author. Access to the collection was enabled through the production of a detailed catalogue (including contents lists prepared by John Hersee) made available on the Special Collections web pages; users were then able to view the manuscripts in the John Hersee Room. Systematic work on processing the manuscripts for conservation, storage and transfer to Special Collections commenced in 2010. In January 2012, 32 boxes (numbered 1- 32) and 7 large boxes (numbered 1T to 7T), each containing on average five exercise books, were transferred to Special Collections. Around one hundred exercise books remain stored in two crates in the John Hersee Room. These were not included in the original Hersee catalogue and have still to be processed and analysed before their transfer to Special Collections. Just over half of these books are not mathematical.


Further accruals are expected

Related Material

John Hersee's collection of published works forms part of the Mathematical Association Collection and is available through the Univeristy of Leicester Library catalogue

Personal Names