Use this tag for questions concerning history of mathematics, historical primacies of results, and evolution of terminology, symbols, and notations. Consider if History of Science and Mathematics Stack Exchange is a better place to ask your question.

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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 ...
14
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3answers
993 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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1answer
4k views

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 ...
14
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1answer
1k 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?
14
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1answer
685 views

What is “inner” about the inner product?

The inner product I am asking about is the one that generalizes the dot product for an arbitrary inner product space. Why is it called an "inner" product? Is there an outer product? Who named it so,...
14
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1answer
254 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 ...
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3answers
7k 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 ...
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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 ...
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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?
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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". ...
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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 ...
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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 ...
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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 ...
13
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6answers
658 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
878 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 big ...
13
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2answers
349 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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2answers
3k 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
176 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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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
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2answers
857 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
413 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 ...
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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
328 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 ...
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2answers
2k 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
833 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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1answer
2k 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".
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4answers
815 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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1answer
326 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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11answers
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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 ...
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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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5answers
595 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
939 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 it?...
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7answers
1k 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.
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7answers
371 views

On a definition of manifold

In the book Mathematical Masterpiece, on page 160, the authors wrote that A manifold, in Riemann's words, is a continuous transition of an instance I know a manifold is something glued by ...
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7answers
7k views

Why don't we use base 6 or 11?

Another question on this site asks why we have chosen our number system to be decimal base 10. There are others asking basically the same thing as well. I'm not really satisfied with any of the ...
12
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2answers
740 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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2answers
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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. ...
12
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5answers
287 views

What is the difference between $\frac{\mathrm{d}}{\mathrm{d}x}$ and $\frac{\partial}{\partial x}$?

Is there not any difference between $\frac{\mathrm{d}}{\mathrm{d}x}$ and $\frac{\partial}{\partial x}$ as long as your function has one variable? $f(x) = x^3\implies \left\{\begin{align}&\dfrac{\...
12
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4answers
494 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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3answers
1k 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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5answers
493 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
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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
780 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 ...
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3answers
425 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
646 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
550 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
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4answers
962 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
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1answer
938 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
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1answer
3k 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 $\phi(m)$. ...