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

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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 ...
22
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584 views

Definitive source about Dirichlet finally proving the Unit Theorem in the Sistine Chapel

There is a remark one can find in various books or survey articles (e.g., page 49 of Helmut Koch's "Number Theory: Algebraic Numbers and Algebraic Functions") saying Dirichlet figured out a proof of ...
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1k views

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 ...
15
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246 views

Why is $J$ often used to denote $\mathbb{N}$ or $\mathbb{Z}$ in older texts?

In older books, I've noticed that authors tended to use $J$ to denote (usually) the natural numbers and (less commonly) the integers. Does anyone have any idea why that might've been? A few examples ...
11
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158 views

$\sin$ vs. $sin$ - history and usage

One thing newcomers to TeX or MathJax often get wrong is that they write something like $sin(x)$ instead of $\sin(x)$ - the point being that common mathematical functions with names consisting of ...
11
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376 views

How does a Lehmer Sieve work?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lehmer_sieve Apparently a Lehmer Sieve was a mechanical device that used chains and pulleys to factor numbers and solve diophantine equations. It once was able to factor ...
10
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252 views

What is the most cited mathematical paper?

Just out of curiosity: What is the paper with the largest number of citations in all of mathematics? I think it is Shannon's A Mathematical Theory of ...
10
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174 views

Why is the Mazur swindle named so?

Often results or techniques in mathematics are called 'theorems'. Sometimes they are called 'tricks'. In no other context have I seen a result called a 'swindle'. Is there a historical reason for this ...
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98 views

Did Landau prove that there is a prime on $(x,(1+1/5)x)?$

Was Landau the first to prove that there is a prime on $(x,\frac{6}{5}x )?$ In his Handbuch $^1$ discussing the limit $$\lim_{n\to\infty} (\pi((1+\epsilon)x)-\pi(x))=\infty $$ he seems to say that ...
9
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127 views

To whom is the proof that $A_n$ is simple for $n\geqslant 5$ due, in Rotman's book?

The proof in Rotman's book, Introduction to the Theory of Groups, that $A_n$ is simple consists of the observation that $A_n$ is generated by the $3$-cycles, and hence that if a normal subgroup $H\lhd ...
9
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302 views

How did Cohen invent forcing?

A couple of popular maths book, I forget which stated that Cohen invented Forcing. Now, generally I've noticed that there is a history which allows one in hindsight to show that how certain ...
8
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65 views

Why do people prefer cosine to sine when speaking of harmonic oscillation?

In almost all of the physics textbooks I have ever read, the author will write the oscillating function as $$x(t)=\cos\left(\omega t+\phi\right)$$ My question is that, is there any practical or ...
8
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199 views

How do mathematicians know what is known?

How do mathematicians know that what they are researching has not been already know for 200 years? Obviously if they are researching something that is cutting edge it is not a problem, but if one is ...
8
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158 views

Did Field's Medalist Klaus Roth suffer from test anxiety?

I remember hearing the story that Fields Medalist Klaus Roth was convinced that he could not pass a qualifying exam when he was a graduate student. He was then given a so called practice exam for him ...
8
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169 views

Origin of $\mapsto$ notation

Who invented the brilliant $\mapsto$ notation for describing a function's action on a point, as in $x \mapsto x^2$? This is in some sense a counterpart to Who came up with the arrow notation $x ...
7
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77 views

What primes were “pending” at the time of Wiles's proof of FLT?

I would like to know what instances of Fermat's Last Theorem were pending at the time of Wiles's proof. More specifically: what families of irregular primes had been discarded as possible ...
7
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157 views

Work of Ted Kaczynski

I hope this question is not too crazy sounding, but I was wondering if anyone is familiar with the work of Ted Kaczynski (or even has cited/used it before). After reading in Lars Ahlfors' Complex ...
7
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128 views

Riesz's 1909 proof of the Riesz Representation Theorem

Frigyes Riesz originally proved the Riesz Representation Theorem on $ C[0,1] $ -- here is his 1909 paper in English (original French). He builds a real valued function $ \text{A} $ on $ [0,1] $ ...
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100 views

History of the term “anodyne” in homotopy theory

There is a notion of an anodyne morphism (usually of simplicial sets). This type of morphisms is used, for instance, to establish basic properties of quasicategories. But the name is quite mysterious. ...
7
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321 views

Decoding Gauss' Easter Algorithm

In 1800, Gauss published this algorithm for computing the date of Easter in a given year $year$: $a = year \mod 19$ $b = year \mod 4$ $c = year \mod 7$ $k = \lfloor year/100 \rfloor$ $p ...
7
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323 views

Ramanujan and sum of four cubes

This is more a question on History than proof itself. About a decade ago, a college professor and a Math coach told us about this beautiful theorem: Every multiple of 6 can be written as a sum of ...
7
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194 views

Citation for subset complement result

Let $S = \{s_1, \ldots, s_n\} \subset \{1, \ldots, 2n\}$. Consider two operations on $S$, unfortunately both called complement in different setting: let $A(S) = \{1, \ldots, 2n\} \setminus S$ (set ...
7
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389 views

notation for ramification index and inertial degree

For a prime $Q$ lying over a prime $P$, I have seen the ramification index of $Q$ over $P$ denoted by $e(Q|P)$ and the inertial degree of $Q$ over $P$ by $f(Q|P)$. What is the origin of the ...
6
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76 views

What did John Nash publish post-illness?

I've searched for this from time to time and never been able to find a single research paper he published since 1960. Every account of his later work seems to finesse this. The Abel prize page for ...
6
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491 views

2015-related question: why are Lucas-Carmichael numbers named after Lucas?

Summary 2015 is a so called Lucas-Carmichael number. I believe (for reasons that I will explain below) that the 'Carmichael' in the name is a reference to ordinary Carmichael numbers and not to the ...
6
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239 views

History of a combinatoric problem: exchanging numbers by throwing stones

Another user recently asked a question on the Puzzling stack: Two spies throwing stones into a river. Suitably generalised, it becomes: Two spies (Alice and Bob) need to exchange a message. Each ...
6
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264 views

Historical Question about Schur-Zassenhaus Theorem

I couldn't find any historical information about Schur-Zassenhaus theorem in many books or even papers which mention this theorem. I think, Schur proved that if $G$ is a finite group and if $N$ is ...
6
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182 views

Priority of the content of a note by Lebesgue from 1905

I refer to a note by Lebesgue Remarques sur la définition de l'intégrale, Bull.Sci.Math. 29 (1905) 272-275 not very known (see pdf for an exposition in English). It is a pedagogical note containing a ...
5
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99 views

Where did the German term “Spur” of a matrix come from?

I wonder the origin of the term "trace" of a matrix. As I googled, it was the English translation of the German word "Spur" and it appeared in the translation of H. Weyl's Raum, Zeit, Materie. ...
5
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49 views

Why row vectors in stochastic processes?

It seems reasonable to state that column vectors $\mathbf{x}$ are the most frequently seen standard notation, often using $\mathbf{x}^\intercal$ to denote a row vector (transposed column vector). ...
5
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73 views

math historian who don't belong to academia

Is there examples of math historian who don't belong to academia? Is it possible for professionally non-academician to perform good work in the field of the history of mathematics and publish? Does ...
5
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380 views

Mathematics felt by Srinivasa Ramanujan

At the moment I am reading the book Ramanujan's Papers by B.J. Venkatachala, V. Vinay and C.S. Yogananda; when clarifying some doubt with a professor, he told me that Srinivasa Ramanujan used Galois ...
5
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62 views

Reference? filler: IRS, Rhind Papyrus, High-school algebra

I believe something like this was included as a filler in one of the MAA journals many years ago. I am searching for the exact reference (for the filler, or an earlier source). Someone dies, and ...
5
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0answers
224 views

How Ramanujan find this formula

I have seen this formula from Ramanujan $\sum_n \frac{a^{n+1}-b^{n+1}}{a-b}\frac{c^{n+1}-d^{n+1}}{c-d}T^n=\frac{1-abcdT^2}{(1-abT)(1-acT)(1-bcT)(1-bdT)}$. I know how to prove it via geometric ...
5
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128 views

The mathematical heritage of Lewis Carroll

Which mathematical results has Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, produced? Wikipedia is very vague with regard to this topic and gives us little more than a matrix ...
5
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337 views

History of line integral.

I'm looking for some information about how the line integral was discovered, since I've been looking for a long time for this. I found that Riemann could integer discontinuity functions, then Poisson ...
5
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0answers
279 views

Bloom of Thymaridas

I'm interested in learning more about the Bloom of Thymaridas, a description of which can be found here. Obviously the mathematics behind the identity is not particularly deep from a modern ...
5
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0answers
563 views

Mac Lane and Eilenberg's motivations for category theory

I'm looking to understand the conceptual process that brought Eilenberg and Mac Lane in developing the basic concepts of category theory. I quote Mac Lane's book "Category theory for working ...
5
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166 views

History Question - Branch Cut

My professor began discussing branch cuts in class today and mentioned that he did not know the origin of the term. Does anyone know the origin of the term and perhaps a source that talks about it?
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80 views

Is Bourbaki unique?

So my understanding is that a while back a group of mostly French mathematicians, under the pseudonym Bourbaki, wrote a somewhat austerely written series titled "Elements of Mathematic(s)" covering a ...
4
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0answers
56 views

Who was the first to use right and left ideals in a ring?

I know Emmy Noether defined the terms right and left ideal of a ring and made extensive use of them. However, I am interested in knowing whether someone had already coined the term (in the very ...
4
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0answers
77 views

In the mean value theorem, we are guaranteed $c$ such that $f'(c) = (f(b)-f(a))/(b-a)$. Does $c$ have a name?

The Mean Value Theorem says approximately that for differentiable $f$, there is a $c \in (a,b)$ such that $$ f'(c) = \frac{f(b)-f(a)}{b - a}. $$ I presume that the number $f'(c)$ is the mean value. My ...
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0answers
2k views

What is the origin of “how the Japanese multiply” / line multiplication?

A few months ago I made a video about a way to multiply numbers using lines (here) and it got really popular. I had heard about this trick before and I wanted to trace its origins. It seems to me to ...
4
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0answers
47 views

C. Neumann passage in Latin from *Annali di Matematica Pura ed Applicata*

Neumann, Carl. “Theoria nova phaenomenis electricis applicanda.” Annali di Matematica Pura ed Applicata 2, no. 1 (August 1868): 120–128. doi:10.1007/BF02419606. p. 121: Nova introducitur ...
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96 views

Was the Weierstrass function constructed or discovered?

Reading Halmos' I want to be a mathematician, he mentions a continuous function without a tangent. Naturally, I was curious to see how such a function could possibly exist, and I imagined it to be ...
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117 views

Earliest precursor to category theory

In the Historical notes section of the Wikipedia article on category theory, it is mentioned that in 1942-1945, Samuel Eilenberg and Saunders Mac Lane, in the course of their work in algebraic ...
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137 views

Why do Mathematicians use $u$ and $v$ as variables?

I'm sure this has happened to you as well: you are reading some hand-written work, the variables used are $u$ and $v$, and at some point the handwriting becomes unclear and you cannot distinguish the ...
4
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0answers
56 views

Original proof of the Invariance of Domain Theorem (in English)?

Does anyone know where I can find a translation of the original proof of the Invariance of Domain Theorem in English? Wikipedia cites the original proof to be in: Beweis der Invarianz des ...
4
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0answers
962 views

Is there any English version of Récoltes et Semailles?

I felt like my question isn't appropriate for MO, so I though maybe I should post it here. I want to read Alexander Grothendieck's "Récoltes et Semailles", but I don't know any French. I can easily ...
4
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0answers
93 views

Mathematical journals (maybe in the past) with regular competitions?

I just finished reading Yōko Ogawa's "The Housekeeper and the Professor". One of the main characters - "the professor" - is a retired mathematician who regularly takes part in contests published in a ...