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

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14
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1answer
244 views

History of the point at infinity?

I'm curious to learn more about the history of the introduction of the concept of the point at infinity into mathematics. The sum of my knowledge of the historical aspect is from this paragraph (which ...
13
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3answers
6k views

What is the meaning of the expression Q.E.D.? Is it similar to ■ appearing at the end of a theorem?

I am curious about the meaning of the word Q.E.D. that is often written after a proof of a theorem (some math books use this convention). Edit: Is it similar to the box being placed after a proof of ...
13
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2answers
2k views

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 ...
13
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2answers
1k 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?
13
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9answers
1k views

Interviews of famous modern mathematicians

I was wondering, are there any good collections of interviews of famous modern mathematicians? It can be text interviews, or audio or video recordings. I am not sure what exactly I mean by "modern". ...
13
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3answers
3k views

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 ...
13
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9answers
1k views

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 ...
13
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6answers
650 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. ...
13
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4answers
867 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 ...
13
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2answers
346 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 ...
13
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2answers
2k views

Curious about math and Soviet Union

Why so many very good books were written by authors with Russian surnames?
13
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2answers
174 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 ...
13
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4answers
651 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 ...
13
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2answers
2k 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. ...
13
votes
2answers
849 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 ...
13
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2answers
1k 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 ...
13
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3answers
320 views

Why “integralis” over “summatorius”?

It is written that Johann Bernoulli suggested to Leibniz that he (Leibniz) change the name of his calculus from "calculus summatorius" to "calculus integralis", but I cannot find their correspondence ...
13
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2answers
1k views

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 ...
13
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3answers
806 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 ...
13
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4answers
808 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. ...
13
votes
1answer
1k views

Why is logistic equation called “logistic”?

The logistic function solves the logistic ODE which is the continuous version of the logistic map. However, I was not able to find why any of these things are called "logistic".
13
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1answer
323 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 $x+dx=x$ ...
12
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8answers
8k views

Why are derivatives specified as d/dx?

Is the purpose of the derivative notation d/dx strictly for symbolic manipulation purposes? I remember being confused when I first saw the notation for derivatives - it looks vaguely like there's ...
12
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11answers
3k views

Good examples for mathemathical problems/statements that are easely solvable/provable in one theory and hard to solve/prove in another

Let $P$ be a mathematical statement or a mathematical problem. I am looking for a couple of nice examples for $P$ that satisfy the following criteria: Given two (or more) mathematical points of view ...
12
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5answers
575 views

How did Euler realize $x^4-4x^3+2x^2+4x+4=(x^2-(2+\alpha)x+1+\sqrt{7}+\alpha)(x^2-(2-\alpha)x+1+\sqrt{7}-\alpha)$?

How did Euler find this factorization? $$\small x^4 − 4x^3 + 2x^2 + 4x + 4=(x^2-(2+\alpha)x+1+\sqrt{7}+\alpha)(x^2-(2-\alpha)x+1+\sqrt{7}-\alpha)$$ where $\alpha = \sqrt{4+2\sqrt{7}}$ I know that ...
12
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2answers
929 views

Who decides after whom a theorem or conjecture is named?

Who decides after whom a theorem is named? When someone discovers and proves a theorem, it is almost always named after that person. But how about when person A conjectures a theorem, and B proves ...
12
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7answers
996 views

What's the hard part of zero?

A lot of textbooks said it was hard for human to accept zero when it was first introduced. How could it be? It seems to me as natural as positive integer which represent there is no elements at all.
12
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2answers
736 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 ...
12
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3answers
976 views

History of notation: “!”

Does anyone know where the factorial "!" symbol came from? I can't decide if it is my favorite or least favorite notation in mathematics...
12
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2answers
2k views

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. ...
12
votes
5answers
491 views

When can ZFC be said to have been “born”?

The "History" section of the Wikipedia article on ZFC isn't particularly helpful. The only thing I have understood from it is that ZFC had appeared after 1922. In what book or paper was ZFC first ...
12
votes
4answers
477 views

Elementary problems that would've been hard for past mathematicians, but are easy to solve today? [closed]

I'm looking for problems that due to modern developments in mathematics would nowadays be reduced to a rote computation or at least an exercise in a textbook, but that past mathematicians (even famous ...
12
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5answers
1k views

Mathematicians who overcame academic failure to achieve success [closed]

Does anyone have any story of mathematicians who overcame "academic failure" or setbacks to achieve success later as a result of their perseverance? This is a soft question, that hopefully can inspire ...
12
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2answers
1k 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 ...
12
votes
2answers
752 views

Where, specifically, did Principia Mathematica fail?

I'm very fascinated by the book Principia Mathematica. From what I've learned so far, Principia Mathematica set out to be, essentially, the bible of mathematics and logic, from which all mathematical ...
12
votes
3answers
410 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 ...
12
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6answers
1k views

Historical textbook on group theory/algebra

Recently I have started reading about some of the history of mathematics in order to better understand things. A lot of ideas in algebra come from trying to understand the problem of finding ...
12
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1answer
634 views

The word “integral” in calculus unrelated to “integral” / “integer” in algebra?

I think that the word integral in calculus is nothing to do with integer or integer numbers. But why is integral is chosen for integration? In algebra, integral means related to integers, and this is ...
12
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2answers
524 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 ...
12
votes
4answers
853 views

The origin of the function $f(x)$ notation

What are the historical origins of the $f(x)$ notation used for functions? That is when did people start to use this notation instead of just thinking in terms of two different variables one being ...
12
votes
1answer
922 views

What is the name of the $\in$ symbol and where does it come from?

It looks like a lower-case epsilon, but the Wikipedia page on epsilon states that they are not the same. Does this symbol have a typographic identification outside of mathematics? Where did the ...
12
votes
1answer
2k views

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 $\phi(m)$. ...
12
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2answers
401 views

A quote from Arnold

Arnold said the following in a talk on teaching: Jacobi noted, as mathematics' most fascinating property, that in it one and the same function controls both the presentations of a whole number as ...
12
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1answer
221 views

Why is $e$ the Identity?

Some authors use $e$ to be the identity element of a group instead of $1$. What is the origin of this notation? Was this before or after we used $e$ to represent the base of the natural logarithm? ...
12
votes
2answers
406 views

What's the history of the result that $p_{n+1} < p_n^2$, and how difficult is the proof?

In Edsger Dijkstra's monograph "Notes on Structured Programming", he describes a simple imperative program for generating an array of the first $n$ primes. For each prime $p_n$, it finds the next ...
12
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3answers
464 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 – ...
12
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2answers
886 views

What do Greek Mathematicians use when they use our equivalent Greek letters in formulas and equations?

Like for example, it's common to use the Greek letter $\theta$ to represent an angle right? So what would a Greek person doing math use to represent an angle? Would they also use $\theta$? Or is there ...
12
votes
1answer
533 views

Sperner's theorem on antichains - where does it come from?

Sperner proved in 1927 (the paper was published in 1928) his theorem stating that the maximal size of an antichain of subsets of $[n]$ is $\binom{n}{n/2}$. In the introduction to his paper, he ...
12
votes
1answer
498 views

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 = ...
12
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2answers
344 views

What meaning did Riemann assign to $dx$?

Detlef Laugwitz wrote a monumental biography of Riemann. The book was translated into English by Shenitzer. Laugwitz discusses Riemann's fundamental essay Uber die Hypothesen, welche der Geometrie ...