Historical Reprints History History of Modern Mathematics

History of Modern Mathematics

History of Modern Mathematics
Catalog # SKU1442
Publisher TGS Publishing
Weight 1.00 lbs
Author Name David Eugene Smith


The History of
Modern Mathematics

By David Eugene Smith

It need hardly be said that the field of mathematics is now so extensive that no one can longer pretend to cover it, least of all the specialist in any one department. Furthermore it takes a century or more to weigh men and their discoveries, thus making the judgment of contemporaries often quite worthless. In spite of these facts, however, it is hoped that these pages will serve a goodpurpose by offering a point of departure to students desiring to investigate the movements of the past hundred years.


In considering the history of modern mathematics two questions at once arise:

(1) what limitations shall be placed upon the term Mathematics;

(2) what force shall be assigned to the word Modern? In other words, how shall Modern Mathematics be defined?

In these pages the term Mathematics will be limited to the domain of pure science. Questions of the applications of the various branches will be considered only incidentally. Such great contributions as those of Newton in the realm of mathematical physics, of Laplace in celestial mechanics, of Lagrange and Cauchy in the wave theory, and of Poisson, Fourier, and Bessel in the theory of heat, belong rather to the field of applications.

In particular, in the domain of numbers reference will be made to certain ofthe contributions to the general theory, to the men who have placed the study of irrational and transcendent numbers upon a scientific foundation, and to those who have developed the modern theory of complex numbers and its elaboration in the field of quaternions and Ausdehnungslehre. In the theory of equations the names of some of the leading investigators will be mentioned, together with a brief statement of the results which they secured. The impossibility of solving the quintic will lead to a consideration of the names of the founders of the group theory and of the doctrine of determinants.

This phase of higher algebra will be followed by the theory of forms, or quantics. The later development of the calculus, leading to differential equations and the theory of functions, will complete the algebraic side, save for a brief reference to the theory of probabilities.In the domain of geometry some of the contributors to the later development of the analytic and synthetic fields will be mentioned, together with the most noteworthy results of their labors. Had the author's space not been so strictly limited he would have given lists of those who have worked in other important lines, but the topics considered have been thought to have the best right to prominent place under any reasonable definition of Mathematics.

Modern Mathematics is a term by no means well defined. Algebra cannot be called modern, and yet the theory of equations has received some of its most important additions during the nineteenth century, while the theory of forms is a recent creation.

Similarly with elementary geometry; the labors of Lobachevsky and Bolyai during the second quarter of the century threw a new light upon the whole subject, and more recently the study of the triangle has added anotherchapter to the theory. Thus the history of modern mathematics must also be the modern history of ancient branches, while subjects which seem the product of late generations have root in other centuries than the present.

The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries laid the foundations of much of the subject as known to-day. The discovery of the analytic geometry by Descartes, the contributions to the theory of numbers by Fermat, to algebra by Harriot, to geometry and to mathematical physics by Pascal, and the discovery of the differential calculus by Newton and Leibniz, all contributed to make the seventeenth century memorable.

The eighteenth century was naturally one of great activity. Euler and the Bernoulli family in Switzerland, d'Alembert, Lagrange,and Laplace in Paris, and Lambert in Germany, popularized Newton's great discovery,and extended both its theory and its applications. Accompanying this activity, however, was a too implicit faith in the calculus and in the inherited principles of mathematics, which left the foundations insecure and necessitated their strengthening by the succeeding generation.

The nineteenth century has been a period of intense study of first principles,of the recognition of necessary limitations of various branches, of a great spread of mathematical knowledge, and of the opening of extensive fields for applied mathematics. Especially influential has been the establishment of scientific schools and journals and university chairs. The great renaissance of geometry is not a little due to the foundation of the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris (1794-5), and the similar schools in Prague (1806), Vienna (1815), Berlin (1820), Karlsruhe(1825), and numerous other cities. About the middle of the century these schools began to exert a still a greater influence through the custom of calling to them mathematicians of high repute, thus making Zourich, Karlsruhe, Munich, Dresden, and other cities well known as mathematical centers.

Softcover, 7.5" x 10.5", 70+ pages


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