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

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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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357 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 ...
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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 ...
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481 views

Who was Hermann Künneth?

Question as in the title: Who was Hermann Künneth? Where can I find some biographical information beyond what is available on Wikipedia? The well-known Künneth formula, for example in the form of ...
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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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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 ...
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820 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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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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Why is an image called an “image”?

Given a function $f : A \to B$, the image, denoted by $\operatorname{Im}f$ is the set of all $f(x)$ where $x \in A$. Why do we call this set the image? When was it first used, and what motivated its ...
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802 views

Did Zariski really define the Zariski topology on the prime spectrum of a ring?

The question is not: “Did Zariski really define the Zariski topology?” It is: “Did Zariski really define the Zariski topology on the prime spectrum of a ring?” Here is the motivation. --- On page ...
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Origins of the modern definition of topology

The modern definition of topology is 'a family of subsets of a set $X$ containing the empty set and $X$, closed under unions and finite intersections'. In Grundzüge der Mengenlehre (1914) Hausdorff ...
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Examples of falsified (or currently open) longstanding conjectures leading to large bodies of incorrect results.

In general, the way that modern mathematical research is conducted isn't the way that many would assume is the ideal method of research. That is, mathematics is not the linear progression of ...
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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), ...
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1answer
2k views

Where did the word “logarithm” come from?

Where did the word logarithm come from? Any relation to the word algorithm?
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666 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 ...
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667 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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Challenge: Demonstrate a Contradiction in Leibniz' differential notation

I want to know if the Leibniz differential notation actually leads to contradictions - I am starting to think it does not. And just to eliminate the most commonly showcased 'difficulty': For the ...
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What is the origin of the expression “Yoneda Lemma”?

Thank you very much in advance for telling where the expression “Yoneda Lemma” comes from. EDIT 1. On page -14 of Reprints in Theory and Applications of Categories, No. 3, 2003. Abelian Categories, ...
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A problem V.I. Arnold solved as a primary school student

According to a 1995 interview that Vladimir I. Arnold gave to the Notices of the AMS, his primary school teacher I.V. Morozkin gave in 1949 (when Arnold was 12 years old) to a Soviet classroom, most ...
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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 ...
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783 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?
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Who are some forgotten mathematicians? [closed]

In Thomas' Calculus, he presents ''Nicole Oresme's Theorem'': $$ \sum_{n=1}^\infty {n\over 2^{n-1}}=4. $$ My first reaction was "who is this person?''. As it turns out, he was a Frenchman from the ...
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794 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 ...
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4answers
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Difference between calculus and analysis

It's somthing I always want to figure out, when did calculus start to be extended to analysis(I reformulate the question, the previous one"where one can draw a line to distinguish calculus and ...
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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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Why is the axiom of choice separated from the other axioms?

I don't know much about set theory or foundational mathematics, this question arose just out of curiosity. As far as I know, the widely accepted axioms of set theory is the Zermelo-Fraenkel axioms ...
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4answers
811 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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Adriaan van Roomen's 45th degree equation in 1593

Adriaan van Roomen proposed a 45th degree equation in 1593(see this book, picture reference as follows): $$ \begin{gathered} f(x) = x^{45} - 45x^{43} + 945x^{41} - 12300x^{39} + 111150x^{37} - ...
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Did Gauss ever make a mistake?

I have read a bit about Gauss, who was well known for being careful in only publishing work he had perfected (or in his own words "few, but ripe"). What is interesting to me about Gauss though is that ...
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Mathematically, why was the Enigma machine so hard to crack?

Mathematically, why was the Enigma machine so hard to crack? In laymen terms, what was it exactly that made cracking the Enigma machine such a formidable task? Everything I have seen about the ...
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685 views

history of the double root solution of $ay''+by'+cy=0$

Motivation: It is a well-known fact that $ay''+by'+cy=0$ has solutions which are found from substituting the ansatz $y=e^{\lambda t}$ into the DEqn. It turns out that we replace the calculus problem ...
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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 ...
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History of dot product and cosine

The fact that the dot product and the cosine of the angle between two vectors are mutually computable is easy to show (see the two sides in the two answers at Dot product in coordinates). But looking ...
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715 views

Reflections on math education

Why is there such a big difference in math education between The Americas and (Europe and Asia) ? except for a few privileged who have the opportunity to access to math much earlier than the ordinary ...
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4answers
434 views

When was $\pi$ first suggested to be irrational?

When was $\pi$ first suggested to be irrational? According to Wikipedia, this was proved in the 18th century. Who first claimed / suggested (but not necessarily proved) that $\pi$ is irrational? I ...
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527 views

A curious theorem by Peano

Let $f$ be defined on $[a,b]$ and there differentiable. Show that for every $ \epsilon>0 $ there exists a partition $\, a=a_0<a_1<...<a_n=b \,$ of $ \,[a,b] \,$ so that $$\left|\frac ...
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1answer
261 views

How and why did Weierstrass $\wp$ get its special symbol?

I kind of always hated drawing the Weierstrass $\wp$ symbol by hand, and it struck me as odd how and why it achieved its special status in the first place. After all, there are tons of other important ...
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To what extent were mathematicians in previous centuries aware of the lack of rigour in their methods?

By modern standards, much of pre-modern mathematics isn't rigorous. Famous examples include Euler's solution to the Basel problem or literally anything involving sets before Cantor and Russel came ...
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974 views

Did the Appel/Haken graph colouring (four colour map) proof really not contribute to understanding?

I hope this isn't off topic - sorry if I'm wrong. In 1976, Kenneth Appel and Wolfgang Haken proved the claim (conjecture) that a map can always be coloured with four colours, with no adjacent regions ...
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3answers
405 views

Ultrafilters - when did it start?

I am writing a paper on some of the applications of ultrafilters, especially the ones on $\mathbb{N}$. I thought that it would be interesting to include some information about how the concept got ...
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5answers
649 views

What are reasons why some symbols in mathematical logic are not standardized?

Why is so hard to find a standardisation regarding symbolism and/or terminology in Mathematical Logic ? We see again and again students asking if e.g. $\rightarrow$ and $\implies$ means the same ...
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About a paper of Zermelo

This about the famous article Zermelo, E., Beweis, daß jede Menge wohlgeordnet werden kann, Math. Ann. 59 (4), 514–516 (1904), available here. Edit: Springer link to the ...
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History of Algebraic Geometry: Motivation behind definition of schemes

I am trying to read an article by Jean Dieudonne which talks about development of Algebraic Geometry. The article was being published in the journal "Advances in Mathematics" Volume 3, Issue 3, Pages ...
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1answer
477 views

Hilbert's Original Proof of the Nullstellensatz

Does anyone have a link to Hilbert's Original Proof of the Nullstellensatz, or know a book where it's printed? I'd be interested to see what it was like. I only really know the Noether normalisation ...
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Are infinitesimals dangerous?

Amir Alexander is a historian of mathematics. His new book is entitled "Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World". See here. Two questions: (1) In what sense are ...
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736 views

Why are there so few Euclidean geometry problems that remain unsolved?

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... What is it ...
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1answer
314 views

Motivation for the study of amoebas.

What was the primary motivation for the study of the amoebas?
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What is magical about Cartan's magic formula?

Why is Cartan's magic formula $$\mathscr{L}_X\omega = i_Xd\omega + d(i_X\omega)$$ called "magic"? Should it be considered a highly surprising result? Does it "magically" prove several other ...
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Reference request: is mathematics discovered or created?

I have to write a short monograph as an assignment for a course on the philosophy of science. Being a math student, of course I want to opt for something math-related. After some initial ideas which ...