Biographies, philosophy of mathematics, mathematics education, recreational mathematics, communication of mathematics

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Who defined and who coined “module”?

The title of my Q. says it all: QUESTION:   Who defined and who coined: module? Would it be Emmy Noether? EDIT   In view of @anon's and KConrad's answers, and as it could have been ...
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Who originated the standard symbols for Lie groups GL, SL, SU, etc.?

Who was first to use symbols GL, SL, O, SO, U, SU, Sp and their projective versions, and how did this notation become standard? The notation appears in fairly modern form in Weyl's "The Classical ...
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The Arnold – Serre debate

I have read (but I cannot now find where) that Arnold & Serre had a public debate on the value of Bourbaki. Does anyone have more details, or remember or know what was said?
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Survey of the history of calculus?

Boyer 1939 is a nice readable survey of the history of the calculus, but it's showing its age. Discussing the notion of instantaneous velocity, he has: Mathematics knows no minimum interval of ...
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How were formulas / images added to books in post-printing-press / pre-digital times?

I have seen that Euclid's Elements was written 300 BC and first set in type in 1482. Are there scans of that old versions available? How were formulas / images added to the books created with ...
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First Description of how to Remove Radicals from Equations

Who first described the technique of removing radicals as indicated in the answers to questions Tools for Removing Radicals from Equations and Rewrite sum of radicals equation as polynomial equation ? ...
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The ten martini problem - reason for name

Why is the problem called the ten martini problem? Sounds like an interesting name for people who drink.
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How to find ICM talks?

I am very interested in reading some and skimming through the list of invited talks at the International Congress of Mathematicians. Since the proceedings contain talks supposedly by top experts in ...
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Finiteness as a motivation for compactness

Another history question, and I am not sure if I will get any answers. (If anyone knows of a good history of math list to use for this question I would be happy for any tips. The one I used to post to ...
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Salvaging Leibnizian formalism?

Can one justify Leibniz's formalism in a suitable algebraic or topological context? We have published some papers recently where we argue that Leibniz's formalism for the calculus wasn't ...
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real symmetric matrix has real eigenvalues - elementary proof

Every real symmetric matrix has at least one real eigenvalue. Does anyone know how to prove this elementary, that is without the notion of complex numbers?
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651 views

History of the connection between Riemann surfaces and complex algebraic curves

As noted in the question "Links between Riemann surfaces and algebraic geometry", there are strong connections between Riemann surfaces and algebraic geometry - for example, compact Riemann surfaces ...
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A topologist is not a mathematician - a small question

Years ago I read about a topologist who was to enter the states as an immigrant and was asked a question about his profession. He indicated he was a topologist, but as this was not included on the ...
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Where can I find the text of Weyl's Fields Medal speech for Serre?

I thought about asking this question a while ago, but decided against it. But now I see a question about Eichler's "modular forms" quote, so while I guess it's probably still, um, questionable, what ...
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Newton and Newton polygon

What did Newton himself do, so that the "Newton polygon" method is named after him?
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Papers that debunk common myths in the history of mathematics

What are some good papers that debunk common myths in the history of mathematics? To give you an idea of what I'm looking for, here are some examples. Tony Rothman, "Genius and biographers: The ...
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Negative impact of wrong or non-rigorous proofs

The recent talks of Voevodsky (for example, http://www.math.ias.edu/~vladimir/Site3/Univalent_Foundations_files/2014_IAS.pdf), which describe subtle errors in proofs by him as well as others, as well ...
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Rediscovery of lost mathematics

Archimedes (ca. 287-212BC) described what are now known as the 13 Archimedean solids in a lost work, later mentioned by Pappus. But it awaited Kepler (1619) for the 13 semiregular polyhedra to be ...
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History of limit point compact -/-> compact example

A standard example in elementary topology (e.g. Munkres) of a space which is limit-point compact (every infinite subset of the space has a limit point) but not compact is the minimal uncountable ...
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Why are they called Specht Modules?

I know that the simple modules of $\mathbb{C}S_n$ are called Specht Modules, and they are named after the German Mathematician Wilhelm Specht because he studied them, but I think these modules were ...
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Maximal ideals are prime (history answer please!)

Please can someone tell me the history of the simple argument that any maximal ideal of a commutative ring or distributive lattice is prime? (It is understood that we have found the maximal one using ...
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Origins of the Jacobi matrix

I have several questions concerning history of Jacobi matrices. Does anybody know why the Jacobi matrix (=symmetric tridiagonal matrix) is named by Carl Gustav Jacob Jacobi? What was his contribution ...
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Where can I find a translation of Caspar Wessel's “Om directionens analytiske betegning?”

I found a listing on Google books for a book containing the desired English translation, together with some biographical information on Wessel, and entitled On the Analytical Representation of ...
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652 views

Did Cauchy think that uniform and pointwise convergence were equivalent?

I've heard that Cauchy thought he'd proved that pointwise and uniform convergence are equivalent. Is this a historical fact? If it is indeed true, I was wondering if anyone had a reference.
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Default Orientation of Vectors [closed]

When I started studying math in 1982 in Germany, there seemed to have been a change in the choice of the default orientation of vectors; while it was row-vectors till then, it changed to ...
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When did coordinate plane “as we know it” come into play?

This is a historical question that needs some background to make sense. Let me start with the longer version of the question: When did negative numbers, algebra and coordinate plane come together? ...
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Giant Rat of Sumatra singularity

I would be grateful for explanations of the issues raised in any of these three questions, or pointers to the relevant literature (now updated with answers): How did a particular singularity come ...
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Fourier transform of the unit sphere

The Fourier transform of the volume form of the (n-1)-sphere in $\mathbf R^n$ is given by the well-known formula $$ \int_{S^{n-1}}e^{i\langle\mathbf a,\mathbf u\rangle}d\sigma(\mathbf u) = (2\pi)^{\nu ...
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Mathematicians whose works were criticized by contemporaries but became widely accepted later

Gauss famously discarded Abel's proof that an algebraic equation of degree five or more cannot have a general solution (Abel himself had rejected divergent series as the work of the devil). Cantor's ...
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Extremely messy proofs

Currently in my undergraduate courses I am being taught how to set up various machinery using slick, short proofs and then how to apply that machinery. What I am not being taught, largely, is what ...
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History of the Proj construction in algebraic geometry

Projective geometry was introduced by fifteenth century Renaissance painters (like Alberti, da Vinci and Dürer) in the guise of perspective theory, although one could argue that Pappus was already ...
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Origin of number theoretic invariants associated to hyperbolic 3-manifolds

I've been studying number theoretic methods of classifying hyperbolic 3-manifolds for over a year now. In particular, there is are the trace field, invariant trace field, quaternion algebra, and ...
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What recent programmes to alter highly-entrenched mathematical terminology have succeeded, and under what conditions do they tend to succeed or fail?

I think we all occasionally come across terminology that we'd like to see supplanted (e.g. by something more systematic). What I'd like to know is, under what circumstances is it reasonable to believe ...
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Mathematicians who made important contributions outside their own field? [closed]

It is often said that scientists who cross disciplinary borders can make unexpected discoveries thanks to their fresh view of the problems at hand. I am looking for mathematicians who did just that. ...
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How did “normal” come to mean “perpendicular”?

How and when did the word "normal" acquire this meaning? When I first thought of this, I couldn't really come up with any explanation that wasn't complete speculation -- pretty much all I was able to ...
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Examples of theorems misapplied to non-mathematical contexts

For something I'm writing -- I'm interested in examples of bad arguments which involve the application of mathematical theorems in non-mathematical contexts. E.G. folks who make theological arguments ...
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Do you read the masters?

I often hear the advice, "Read the masters" (i.e., read old, classic texts by great mathematicians). But frankly, I have hardly ever followed it. What I am wondering is, is this a principle that ...
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Original proof of Pappus' Hexagon Theorem

Does anyone know where I can find an english translation, preferrably online or in a book the library of a small liberal arts college would be likely to have, of the original proof of Pappus' hexagon ...
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Elements of the method of forcing in some papers of N. N. Luzin

In the paper Eléments de la méthode de forcing dans quelques travaux de N. N. Lousin. (French) [Elements of the method of forcing in some papers of N. N. Luzin] Amphora, 469–479, Birkhäuser, ...
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Do there exist modern expositions of Klein's Icosahedron?

Reading Serre's letter to Gray , I wonder if now modern expositions of the themes in Klein's book exist. Do you know any?
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Great mathematicians born 1850-1920 (ET Bell's book ≲ x ≲ Fields Medalists)

When I was a teenager, I was given the book Men of Mathematics by E. T. Bell, and I rather enjoyed it. I know that this book has been criticized for various reasons and I might even agree with some ...
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Origin of the term “generic” in set theory

In set theory, in particular the context of forcing, if $M$ is a model of $\sf ZFC$ and $P\in M$ is a partial order, we say that $G\subseteq P$ is a generic filter (or $M$-generic or generic over $M$) ...
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Meaning of historical fluxion notation

I've noticed that in 18th century books on calculus writers would say that 'the fluxion of $ax$ is $a\dot{x}$' and 'the fluxion of $x^n$ is $n x^{n-1} \dot{x}$'. What does this extra '$\dot{x}$' at ...
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Who invented diagrammatic algebra?

There is a strong and growing trend to do mathematics via diagrammatic algebra, which involves constructing and manipulating equations whose elements are diagrams drawn in the plane. The manipulations ...
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Video lectures of mathematics courses available online for free

It can be difficult to learn mathematics on your own from textbooks, and I often wish universities videotaped their mathematics courses and distributed them for free online. Fortunately, some ...
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Riemann's quote cited by Lakatos: what is the context?

"If only I had the theorems! Then I should find the proofs easily enough." This quote is generally attributed to Bernhard Riemann. In particular, on page 9 in Proofs and refutations by Imre ...
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Who first dubbed them “expander graphs”?

Expander graphs ("sparse graphs that have strong connectivity properties") burst onto the mathematical scene around the millennium, but I have not been successful in tracing the origin of (a) the ...
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Was lattice theory central to mid-20th century mathematics?

Four years ago, I read a book on the history of mathematics up to 1970 or so. It was very interesting up until the end. The last few chapters, though, were on lattices. The author claimed that ...
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What are some famous rejections of correct mathematics?

Dick Lipton has a blog post that motivated this question. He recalled the Stark-Heegner Theorem: There are only a finite number of imaginary quadratic fields that have unique factorization. ...
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Why are smooth numbers called “smooth”?

"Adleman refers to integers which factor completely into small primes as “smooth” numbers." (ME Hellman, JM Reyneri. Advances in Cryptology, 1983: citation link.) Does anyone know what is the ...