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

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Motivation of the Gaussian Integral

I read on Wikipedia that Laplace was the first to evaluate $$\int_{-\infty}^\infty e^{-x^2} \, \mathrm dx$$ Does anybody know what he was doing that lead him to that integral? Even better, can ...
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880 views

In what ways has physics spurred the invention of new mathematical tools?

I came across this comment: Mathematical rigor is not a criterion that physicists have for evaluating their theories. From a mathematical perspective, the non-rigorous theories are far more ...
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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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Curious about math and Soviet Union

Why so many very good books were written by authors with Russian surnames?
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207 views

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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974 views

Is the theory of dual numbers strong enough to develop real analysis, and does it resemble Newton's historical method for doing calculus?

I've been interested in non-standard analysis recently. I was reading up on it and noticed the following interesting comment on the Wikipedia page about hyperreal numbers, right after giving an ...
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777 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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645 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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569 views

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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424 views

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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395 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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829 views

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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“L'Hôpital's rule” vs. “L'Hospital's rule”?

I know this is not strictly a mathematical question, and I considered putting it on Linguistics SE, but I decided that seeing as this is most probably a mathematical history question, it would be ...
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Why is it called Sylvester's Law of Inertia?

By "Sylvester's Law of Inertia," I mean: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sylvester%27s_law_of_inertia How does "Law of Inertia" with the statement of the theorem? I guess it's from physics, but... I ...
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740 views

Purpose of the Peano Axioms

Wikipedia says the Peano Axioms are a set of axioms for the natural numbers. Is the purpose of the axioms to create a base on which we can build the rest of mathematicas formally? If this is true ...
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4answers
803 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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3answers
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How did the square root get its shape?

I was wondering when in history did people start use the $\sqrt{}$ sign for square root, what did they use before, and why this curious nomenclature is adopted.
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How was the Fourier Transform created?

The Fourier Transform is a very useful and ingenious thing. But how was it initiated? How did Joseph Fourier composed the Fourier Transform formula and the idea of a transformation between periodic ...
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159 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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889 views

Famous black mathematicians

Are there any famous black mathematicians? By famous, I mean in the sense of having a theorem or well-known result named after them.
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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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History of elliptic curves

In one sense elliptic curves are a rather modern object as some of its properties have been studied only in the last century or so. But in another sense there are a very classical object for studying ...
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398 views

History of Commutative Algebra

There are books of the history of Algebraic Geometry, there are also papers about it (All had done by J.Dieudonné). But I could not find any book or paper about the history of Commutative Algebra. ...
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Did Albert Einstein contribute to math?

Many great scientists have made important contributations to many related fields. Gauss, Euler and Newton each made many contributions to both math and physic. One of the great scientists of last ...
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773 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 Darboux integrals called Riemann integrals?

As far as I have seen, the majority of modern introductory real analysis texts introduce Darboux integrals, not Riemann integrals. Indeed, many do not even mention Riemann integrals as they are ...
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600 views

Journals of math history?

In a related question to this one, in what journals do math historians publish their article in? Brian M. Scott provided a link to Judy Grabiner's, who is a math historian, home page and it seems that ...
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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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308 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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524 views

successful absurd formalities

Has anyone published in print or on a web site or elsewhere a compilation of successful illogical formal arguments? By those I mean arguments that follow a form in disregard of the legality of its ...
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Why would I define Alexander–Spanier cohomology?

I think I can motivate the definitions of simplicial, singular, de Rham, Čech, and sheaf (co)homology, more or less. I might want to understand bordism, and start by trying to understand ...
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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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2answers
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Why the name 'FACTORIAL'?

Factorial is defined as $n! = n(n-1)(n-2)\cdots 1$ But why mathematicians named this thing as FACTORIAL? Has it got something to do with factors?
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669 views

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 ...
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Has any error ever been found in Euclid's elements?

Has any error ever been found in Euclid's elements since its publication? Or it is still perfect from the view point of modern mathematics.
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Motivation for Napier's Logarithms

In the wikipedia article on logarithms, I am clueless about the approach and motivation for the following computations done by Napier (and the mysterious appearance of Euler's number) in this section. ...
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Motivation for Tom Lehrer's song “Lobachevsky”?

I am trying to understand the motivation for the jingle about plagiarism written by Tom Lehrer. A YouTube version can be found here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IL4vWJbwmqM . Where does history ...
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Why did we define the concept of continuity originally, and why it is defined the way it is?

The concept of continuity is a very important idea in topology. Though I am using it all the time, but indeed I don't know what is the original purpose for us to define this concept. And I also don't ...
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812 views

Fermat's Last Theorem: implications (there is no new proof)

I am not experienced in Number Theory but what I know is that some results of this filed are applicable in other areas, e.g. algebra. For sure FLT made (and makes) people be interested in Number ...
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598 views

Read old articles instead books.

I'd like to know if there is a site, or maybe a collection of books, where I can read old articles in mathematics in order to study topics directly from the source, instead reading books in the field. ...
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388 views

What have been some of the most revolutionary philosophical shifts in perspective in mathematics?

Often times, great revolutions in mathematics come from shifts in philosophical perspective. The shift from extrinsic to intrinsic geometry yields manifolds (and much else). The shift in focus from ...
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307 views

Before Abel's proof, what did they used for trying to find the general solution for quintics?

Whenever I read about the history of algebra, I end up with the same conclusion: They solved the general cubic, then the general quartic and then spent lots of years trying to solve the general ...
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535 views

Why the terminology “monoid”?

As I am not a native English speaker, I sometimes am bothered a little with the word "monoid", which is by definition a semigroup with identity. But why this terminology? I searched some ...
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1answer
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Proof of Euler's Theorem without abstract algebra?

Every proof I've seen of Euler's Theorem (that $\gcd(a,m) = 1 \implies a^{\phi(m)} \equiv 1 \pmod m$) involves the fact that the units of $\mathbb{Z}/m\mathbb{Z}$ form a group of order $\phi(m)$. ...
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1answer
497 views

Any branch of math can be expressed within set theory, is the reverse true?

Set theory seems to have the property of being "universal", in the sense that any branch of math can be expressed on its language. Is there any other branch of math with this property? I am asking ...
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Why is “h” used for entropy?

Why is the letter "h" (or "H") used to denote entropy in information theory, ergodic theory, and physics (and possibly other places)? Edit: I'm looking for an explanation of the original use of "H". ...
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389 views

Is there any difference between a math invention and a math discovery? [closed]

From wikipekia: The calculus controversy was an argument between 17th-century mathematicians Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz (begun or fomented in part by their disciples and associates – ...
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1answer
295 views

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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512 views

Polarization: etymology question

The polarization identity expresses a symmetric bilinear form on a vector space in terms of its associated quadratic form: $$ \langle v,w\rangle = \frac{1}{2}(Q(v+w) - Q(v) - Q(w)), $$ where $Q(v) ...
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Fibonacci, compositions, history

There are three basic families of restricted compositions (ordered partitions) that are enumerated by the Fibonacci numbers (with offsets): a) compositions with parts from the set {1,2} (e.g., 2+2 = ...