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 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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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 ...
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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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251 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 ...
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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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677 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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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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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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944 views

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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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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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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439 views

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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409 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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629 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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Motivation for the study of amoebas.

What was the primary motivation for the study of the amoebas?
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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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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 ...
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7answers
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Films about math: a question about math education and motivation for learning math

I'm interested in movies about or related with mathematics or physics, I mean not documentaries which I also consider movies, but artistic or mainstream films about math. Now I have the following in ...
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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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Was there some prior idea that inspired both Fermat & Descartes to invent coordinates?

It seems incredible to me that both Descartes & Fermat could have both simultaneously discovered such a novel & significant idea, without there being some single prior idea that they both ...
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650 views

Why is analysis called “analysis”?

Just as the topic says, how did the name "analysis" come to denote the specific mathematical branch dealing with limits and stuff? The term "analysis" seems very generic compared to the words for the ...
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461 views

Who gave you the epsilon?

Who gave you the epsilon? is the title of an article by J. Grabiner on Cauchy from the 1980s, and the implied answer is "Cauchy". On the other hand, historian I. Grattan-Guinness points out in his ...
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407 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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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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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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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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Mendelson's $\mathit{Mathematical\ Logic}$ and the missing Appendix on the consistency of PA

In the first edition of Elliott Mendelson's classic Introduction to Mathematical Logic (1964) there is an appendix, giving a version of Schütte's (1951) variation on Gentzen's proof of the consistency ...
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377 views

Who was the first to use dual space?

Who was the first person who used the dual space? In which paper / book did he or she use the dual space? Who was the first who called it dual space and in which paper / book?
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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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How to evaluate trigonometric functions by pen and paper?

How did people determined the values of trigonometric functions before calculators, like e.g. $\sin 37^\circ$ up to five decimal places? Was that possible to find before series were invented?
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691 views

How do mathematicians think about the existence of numbers?

Question: How do mathematicians think about the existence of numbers? And how did Newton, Euler, and other famous mathematicians thought about this concept? I know that existence of numbers is a ...
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143 views

Identity of a Mathematician Mentioned in Euler

I and several others are in the process of translating one of Euler's papers from Latin to English, in particular the one that the Euler Archive lists as E36. In it Euler proves the Chinese Remainder ...
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904 views

Etymology of $\arccos$, $\arcsin$ & $\arctan$?

Does anyone know the origin of the words $\arccos$, $\arcsin$ & $\arctan$? That is to say, why are they named like this? What connects "arc" with inverse? Can't seem to find out via Google. ...
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274 views

Motivation for introducing algebraic topology?

What kind of topological questions does algebraic topology answer where point set topology is not enough? Phrased differently: Where is the line (or maybe intersection) between point set topology ...
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623 views

Who is a Math Historian?

In the context of classes, it is very often that discussion on the history of mathematics arises, whether it'd be on who should a lemma be attributed to or a certain event that occurred during the ...
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Why are proofs written in first person plural? Were they ever written differently?

It's probably a silly question but it interests me when was the convention of writing proofs in first person plural introduced? Is there any historical examples of a different POV for proof writing?
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History of Lagrange Multipliers

How did Lagrange discover Lagrange multipliers? Also, was it related to his work on the calculus of variations? And how did he originally understand/implement the technique?
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698 views

Documentary of mathematics. [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: List of Interesting Math Videos/ Documentaries I just watched a documentary of Fermat's last theorem. It is so good. I can feel how mathematician think and get excited. ...
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284 views

l'Hopital's questionable premise?

Historians widely report that l'Hopital's 1696 book Analyse des Infiniment Petits pour l'Intelligence des Lignes Courbes contains a questionable premise expressed by an equation of type $x+dx=x$ ...
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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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Hardy / Wright's intro to number theory is highly praised but has no exercises

"An introduction to the theory of numbers, G.H Hardy, E.M. Wright, revised by D.R. Heath-Brown, J.H. Silverman. Originally published 1938. Sixth edition 2008 with a foreword by Andrew Wiles" is AFAIK ...
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What is the mathematical intuition behind àl-jàbrà?

The term algebra comes from the arabic term àl-jàbrà that means "to force", "to restore". Over centuries mathematicians, in east and west, celebrate by this term mathematical disciplines. What is ...