Take the 2-minute tour ×
MathOverflow is a question and answer site for professional mathematicians. It's 100% free, no registration required.
  1. Who first recognized that the torus supports a flat structure?

  2. Who first characterized the moduli space of flat structures on the torus?

  3. Who first recognized that the closed, orientable genus 2 supports a hyperbolic structure?

  4. Who first thought of a geometrized surface in terms of the property that for any two points $A$ and $B$ there exists neighborhoods $U$ and $V$ of $A$ and $B$, respectively, and an isometry from $U$ to $V$?

[Reposted from Math Stack Exchange.]

share|improve this question
I don't understand property 4. For instance, think of a square torus and take A=C. There's a whole circle of points of (small) constant distance from A, but the group of isometries of the torus that fix A is finite. –  HJRW Nov 10 '12 at 19:43
I suppose you are right. I will fix this. –  Jonah Sinick Nov 10 '12 at 20:18
Isn't property 4 false for all surfaces of genus $g \geq 2$? The isometry group is certainly contained in the automorphism group of the complex structure, which is finite by Hurwitz's theorem. –  Will Sawin Nov 10 '12 at 20:22
Probably what is meant by property 4 is that there is a local isometry which takes A to B. Perhaps one even wants to say that there is a local isometry from A to B inducing any given isometry of their tangent spaces. –  John Pardon Nov 10 '12 at 20:43
I edited part 4 to make this change. –  Sam Nead Jan 12 at 8:27
add comment

2 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

I believe that on the first two questions, there is no answer (so they are not well-posed:-) The reason is that the flat structure on a torus and the moduli spaces of tori were very well understood long before the notions of "flat", "structure", "moduli space" and even "tori" were introduced. Mathematicians just did not think in these terms. Once these notions were introduced, the tori became a simple example.

Teichmuller was probably a person who made the notion of "moduli space" completely rigorous, though it was considered for the first time by Riemann. And Teichmuller considers tori at a great length to explain what he means. But certainly he did not find anything new about tori. This was just the simplest example. (Many people think, perhaps correctly, that Abel and Jacobi already knew everyhting about tori, though they did not use this word). Modular group was known to Gauss at about the same time. It is true, these things were developed for another 70 years or so, culminating in the Fricke-Klein and enormous French "treateases". But I know people who still prefer Jacobi's exposition, and even study Latin to read it:-)

The metric of constant negative curvature on surfaces of genus >1 is another story. This was introduced by Poincare. Even the Poincare metric on the unit disc was apparently Poincare's invention.
(Schwarz lemma was stated and proved much later, and not by Schwarz:-)

About the last question, I suppose Klein has to be credited. It was Klein who in his "Erlangen program" explained explicitly "what geometry is", and how it is connected with a group action of certain kind. Klein was in close collaboration with Lie at that time.

There is an excellent "primary source" on how all these things really developed: Klein's Lectures on the history of Math in XIX century.

share|improve this answer
Dear Alexandre, Thank you for the thoughtful answer. –  Jonah Sinick Nov 11 '12 at 1:55
Poincare disc model (as well as Klein model) was invented by Beltrami. –  Anton Petrunin Nov 11 '12 at 4:10
Anton: that's interesting. Poincare does not mention Beltrami. Can you give a reference? –  Alexandre Eremenko Nov 11 '12 at 5:04
Poincare did mention Beltrami, he was only popularizing his construction. Eugenio Beltrami, Teoria fondamentale degli spazii di curvatura costante, Annali. di Mat., ser II 2 (1868), 232-255 –  Anton Petrunin Nov 11 '12 at 5:10
I think I remember from Stallings' book that Bolyai and Lobatschewski did not have explicit models of hyperbolic geometry, according to Stallings they just derived properties of hyperbolic geometry (including formulas for area and volume or the hyperbolic cosine theorem) without having explicit models for computation. –  user15817 Nov 12 '12 at 15:33
show 4 more comments

See this Wikipedia article, and the references therein. Jeremy Gray's article is particularly enlightening.

share|improve this answer
Thank you Igor. –  Jonah Sinick Nov 11 '12 at 1:56
add comment

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.