Use this tag for questions concerning history of mathematics, historical primacies of results, and evolution of terminology, symbols, and notations.

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Why are so many of the oldest unsolved problems in mathematics about number theory?

Stillwell mentions in his book, Mathematics and its History that: Most of the really old unsolved problems in mathematics, in fact, are simple questions about the natural numbers... Have ...
25
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2answers
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Word origin / meaning of 'kernel' in linear algebra

It may be the dumbest question ever asked on math.SE, but... Given a real matrix $\mathbf A\in\mathbb R^{m\times n}$, the column space is defined as $$C(\mathbf A) = \{\mathbf A \mathbf x : ...
25
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4answers
1k views

Is mathematical history written by the victors?

The question is the title of a recent piece in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society, by twelve authors (of which I am one). The contention is that traditional history of mathematics is ...
24
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1answer
340 views

Is the Galois group associated to a random polynomial solvable with probability 0?

Choose a random polynomial $P\in\mathbb{Z}[x]$ of degree $n$ and coefficients $\leq n$ and $\geq-n$. Let $r_1,\ldots,r_n$ be the roots of $P$ and consider ...
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9answers
4k views

Good books on Philosophy of Mathematics

Where can I learn more about the implications, meta discussions, history and the foundations of mathematics? Is Russell's Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy a good start?
23
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5answers
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Euler's errors?

What mathematical errors is Leonhard Euler known to have made? PS: As I wrote in a comment below: "However, I would not consider proof to be an error merely because it's not a proof by present-day ...
23
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4answers
1k views

Examples of mathematicians who lost interest in Math and got interested again?

I am looking for some examples, and hopefully some short biographies on mathematicians who lost interest in Math along the way, and somehow got rejuvenated again. (Better still, who managed to do ...
23
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1answer
476 views

How much math education was typical in the 18th & 19th century?

Was it unusual for people in those days to learn Calculus? Could a grad student take a course in differential equations or multi-variable Calculus, or did they have to learn from journals? I am always ...
23
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3answers
1k views

When did Fubini's name get applied to the theorem without measures?

Fubini's theorem, from 1907, expresses integration with respect to a product measure in terms of iterated integrals. The simpler version of this theorem for multiple Riemann integrals was used long ...
22
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5answers
1k views

Importance of rigor

I always have a hard time explaining the importance of rigor to my friends who are not mathematically minded. A lot of past mathematicians develop the foundations of today's mathematics without going ...
22
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6answers
753 views

What did Newton and Leibniz actually discover?

Most popular sources credit Newton and Leibniz with the creation and the discovery of calculus. However there are many things that are normally regarded as a part of calculus (such as the notion of a ...
22
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1answer
2k views

What concept does an open set axiomatise?

In the context of metric (and in general first-countable) topologies, it's reasonably clear what a closed set is: a set $F$ is closed if and only if every convergent sequence of points in $F$ ...
22
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2answers
763 views

Why is the topological pressure called pressure?

Let us consider a compact topological space $X$, and a continuous function $f$ acting on $X$. One of the most important quantities related to such a topological dynamical system is the entropy. For ...
22
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1answer
337 views

Hilbert's original proof of basis theorem

Does anyone know Hilbert's original proof of his basis theorem--the non-constructive version that caused all the controversy? I know this was circa 1890, and he would have proved it for ...
21
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2answers
861 views

Did H. Lebesgue claim “1 is prime” in 1899? Source?

John Derbyshire, in his text "Prime obsession: Bernhard Riemann and the greatest unsolved problem in mathematics" states that The last mathematician of any importance who did [consider the number ...
21
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1answer
867 views

Does there exist a copy of Euclid's Elements with modern notation and no figures?

I am working through Euclid's Elements for fun, but I find the propositions difficult to understand without referencing the provided figures. Unfortunately, the figures usually give away the proofs, ...
20
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3answers
651 views

Who named “Quotient groups”?

Who decided to call quotient groups quotient groups, and why did they choose that name? A lot of identities such as $$\frac{G/A}{B/A}\cong \frac{G}{B}$$ suggest that whoever invented the notation ...
20
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3answers
749 views

Who came up with the $\varepsilon$-$\delta$ definitions and the axioms in Real Analysis?

I've seen a lot of definitions of things like boundary points, accumulation points, continuity, etc, and axioms of the real numbers. But I have a hard time accepting these as "true" definitions or ...
20
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4answers
688 views

Did Euclid prove that Pi is Constant?

Pi is defined the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, but of course different circles have different circumferences and diameters, so in order for it to be well-defined we need to ...
20
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2answers
932 views

Where can I find the old papers of the Math Tripos?

Is there a repository on the Internet which has the old question papers of the tripos? I am specifically interested in the papers during the 1890-1910 era, which was the era before the reforms, ...
19
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2answers
525 views

Approximation for $\pi$

I just stumbled upon $$ \pi \approx \sqrt{ \frac{9}{5} } + \frac{9}{5} = 3.141640786 $$ which is $\delta = 0.0000481330$ different from $\pi$. Although this is a rather crude approximation I ...
19
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3answers
829 views

Who realized $\int \frac 1x dx =\ln(x)+c$?

Who discovered the non-obvious $\int \frac 1x dx=\ln(x)+c$ ? Were power series involved? The series look similar on opposite sides of 1: $$ \frac 1x =\sum_{n=0}^\infty (-1+x)^n \text{ for } ...
19
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2answers
605 views

Who first called the Grothendieck's schéma scheme?

Grothendieck called "schemes" schémas in French. I find it strange we call them schemes. In fact, Grothendieck called them (pre-) schemas(this is an English word) in his talk(in English) at Proceeding ...
19
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4answers
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Where did mathematicians learn how to do truth tables?

I'm trying to find out who invented truth-tables. Here is what I have so far. Leibniz 'invented' binary arithmetic, or at least is the first one recognized to have codified and explained a base 2 ...
19
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2answers
252 views

Curious remark of D. Ravenel

In his beautiful (but difficult) book "Complex cobordism and stable homotopy groups of spheres", concerned mostly with methods of computing homotopy groups of spheres, D. Ravenel describes a general ...
19
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2answers
535 views

History of the theory of equations: John Colson

This is an EDIT version of my original question: Recently I've been interested in the history of the Theory of Equations. The thing is that I learned about this mathematician named John Colson, he ...
19
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1answer
441 views

Why did Gauss think the reciprocity law so important in number theory?

Gauss's Disquitiones Arithmeticae centers around the quadratic reciprocity law. It seems that he developed the genus theory of integral binary quadratic forms to find a natural proof of the quadratic ...
19
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1answer
337 views

Matsunaga's Method for solving $x^2+y^2=p$

In his history of number theory, Dickson mentions an 18th century algorithm due to Matsunago [Sic --- he means, presumably, Matsunaga Ryohitsu a.k.a. Matsunaga Yoshisuke] for finding two numbers whose ...
19
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1answer
357 views

When, and by whom, was “$\mathbb{C}$ is algebraically closed” dubbed the “fundamental theorem of algebra”?

Wikipedia has this enigmatic sentence on the page for the fundamental theorem of algebra: ...its name was given at a time when the study of algebra was mainly concerned with the solutions of ...
18
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8answers
3k views

How did the notation “ln” for “log base e” become so pervasive?

Wikipedia sez: The natural logarithm of $x$ is often written "$\ln(x)$", instead of $\log_e(x)$ especially in disciplines where it isn't written "$\log(x)$". However, some mathematicians ...
18
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2answers
1k views

Why is lambda calculus named after that specific Greek letter? Why not “rho calculus”, for example?

Where does the choice of the Greek letter $\lambda$ in the name of “lambda calculus” come from? Why isn't it, for example, “rho calculus”?
18
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2answers
646 views

A place to learn about math etymology?

I was recently wondering where the word `kernel' comes from in mathematics. I am sure the internet must know. I did manage to find http://www.pballew.net/etyindex.html#k which contains the origin ...
18
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1answer
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Where did the word “logarithm” come from?

Where did the word logarithm come from? Any relation to the word algorithm?
18
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1answer
654 views

Did Leonardo of Pisa prove $n=4$ case of FLT?

Reputable on-line sources agree that Leonard 'Fibonacci' proved the nonexistence of positive-integer solutions to $c^4 - b^4 = a^2$ . Yet my change to Wikipedia to reflect this was reverted. I hope ...
18
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1answer
491 views

The most active fields of mathematics?

Which fields of mathematics are the most active at this time -- by number of papers published, grant money, people working in them or by any other measure? Any trends in this regard?
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0answers
452 views

Definitive source about Dirichlet finally proving the Unit Theorem in the Sistine Chapel

There is a remark one can find in various books or survey articles (e.g., page 49 of Helmut Koch's "Number Theory: Algebraic Numbers and Algebraic Functions") saying Dirichlet figured out a proof of ...
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5answers
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Results that were widely believed to be false but were later shown to be true

What are some results which were widely believed to be false, but were later to be shown to be true, or vice-versa?
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3answers
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where does the term “integral domain” come from?

Self-explanatory title really! A student today asked me why they were called integral domains -- and I realised that the word "integral" seems to be being used in a way totally unlike any other way I ...
17
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1answer
686 views

What was the last mathematical paper published in Latin?

From an answer to a previous question I learned that Peano published in Latin as long as 1889. What was the last mathematical paper/book of recognized importance published in Latin?
17
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2answers
618 views

History of Modern Mathematics Available on the Internet

I have been meaning to ask this question for some time, and have been spurred to do so by Georges Elencwajg's fantastic answer to this question and the link contained therein. In my free time I ...
17
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1answer
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What was Ramanujan's solution?

The wikipedia entry on Ramanujan contains the following passage: One of his remarkable capabilities was the rapid solution for problems. He was sharing a room with P. C. Mahalanobis who had a ...
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2answers
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De Moivre's Theorem. Motivation and origins.

I've purchased "A Source Book in Mathematics" some time ago and I'm still baffled by De Moivre's paper on his formula. We all know the famous $$\{\cos(x) + i \sin(x)\}^n = \cos(nx)+i \sin(nx)$$ but ...
16
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2answers
583 views

Motivation for/history of Jacobi's triple product identity

I'm taking a short number theory course this summer. The first topic we covered was Jacobi's triple product identity. I still have no sense of why this is important, how it arises, how it might have ...
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7answers
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History of zero?

I learn't as a kid from my teachers that zero was discovered/invented in india and if you ask anybody here in india, the answer is simple yes it was invented in india. Now we have something to say ...
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4answers
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Origin of the dot and cross product?

Most questions usually just relate to what these can be used for, that's fairly obvious to me since I've been programming 3D games/simulations for a while, but I've never really understood the inner ...
16
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4answers
752 views

How did the ancients view *infinitesimals*?

With some category/topos theory we can now put infinitesimals on a rigorous ground, as in Bell's A Primer of Infinitesimal Analysis, where the author introduces $\epsilon$ satisfying \begin{equation} ...
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1answer
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Why is the hard Lefschetz theorem “hard”?

Let $X$ be a compact Kähler manifold of complex dimension $\dim_{\mathbb C} = n$. Let $[\omega]$ be the cohomology class of a Kähler metric on $X$. Then powers of the class $[\omega]$ defines a linear ...
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2answers
612 views

Once and for all - “Rational numbers” - because of ratio, or because they make sense?

This is a question I'm sure was asked before but I can't find it. There are many sources claiming that the term "rational number" for the elements of $\mathbb{Q}$ comes from the word "ratio", since a ...
16
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1answer
248 views

Who is buried in Weierstrass' tomb?

The tangent half-angle substitution often used to anti-differentiate rational functions of sine and cosine, and also sometimes used to find closed-form solutions of some differential equations, is ...
16
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1answer
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Who discovered this number-guessing paradox?

In this math.se post I described in some detail a certain paradox, which I will summarize: $A$ writes two distinct numbers on slips of paper. $B$ selects one of the slips at random (equiprobably), ...