This question is somewhat similar to this: Best online mathematics videos?

I'm using the word "history" loosely here. What I'm looking for are those lectures that put various mathematical developments in perspective by explaining their origins. There's something very insightful about seeing someone talk about the origins of a concept, that makes things click. Especially if he or she partook in the inception of that development.

So: where can I find such lectures online?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Unfortunately these are not online but some items would be certainly worth looking: ams.org/bookstore/videos $\endgroup$ Sep 14, 2010 at 23:25
  • $\begingroup$ Caveat: not every expert mathematician who has read about the history of mathematics is an expert in the history of mathematics. Discussing when certain concepts originated seems very tricky to me, since it is easy to be ahistorical/anachronistic and declare that something in the past which resembles a current idea is the same idea in some "more primitve form" - but this could well be misleading $\endgroup$
    – Yemon Choi
    Oct 4, 2010 at 1:40

3 Answers 3


You may wish to look at the plenary lectures of the 2009 annual meeting of the Australian Mathematical Society (especially the two Tao's lectures)


and at the plenary talks at ICM 2010:


(the commented listing of the videos can be found at this post of Timothy Gowers' blog)

Also, there is an extensive collection of the MSRI videos


of which I list here just a few examples that hopefully should meet your requirements regarding the discussion of historical aspects:

Roger Penrose: Twistor Theory, Old and New

Lectures on the Fermat's Last theorem

Irving Kaplansky's 80th Birthday Celebration

Last but not least, there is a large searchable collection of videos (mostly in Russian) at


where you can find e.g.

L.D. Faddeev's talk on the history of quantum groups (in Russian)

Yu.I. Manin's talk on the history of Euler products (in English)

A.M. Vershik's talk on the history and perspectives of the Kolmogorov entropy (in Russian)


There are some videos relevant to the history of mathematics at the Clay Mathematics Institute (http://www.claymath.org/video/) and at the Fields Institute http://www.fields.utoronto.ca/audio/ The Fields section is titled "Audio and Slides" but there are some videos too. Cheers, Scott


I just came across these BBC podcasts the other day. These are almost certainly more populist than you had in mind, but given the title of your question I thought I would throw it up here anyway. The are ten podcasts. Some expire in a day or so, which made me think posting it for those interested was a decent idea.

  1. Newton and Leibniz
  2. Leonard Euler
  3. Joseph Fourier
  4. Evariste Galois
  5. Carl Friedrich Gauss
  6. The Mathematicians Who Helped Einstein
  7. Georg Cantor
  8. Henri Poincare
  9. Hardy and Ramanujan 10.Nicolas Bourbaki


"Professor of Mathematics Marcus du Sautoy reveals the personalities behind the calculations and argues that mathematics is the driving force behind modern science"


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