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History of Math

History Of Math
Number Notation
Multiplication Table
Divisibility Rules
An overview

Mathematics starts with counting. It is not reasonable, however, to suggest that early counting was mathematics. Only when some record of the counting was kept and, therefore, some representation of numbers occurred can mathematics be said to have started.

In Babylonia mathematics developed from 2000 BC. Earlier a place value notation number system had evolved over a lengthy period with a number base of 60. It allowed arbitrarily large numbers and fractions to be represented and so proved to be the foundation of more high powered mathematical development.

Number problems such as that of the Pythagorean triples (a,b,c) with a2+b2 = c2 were studied from at least 1700 BC. Systems of linear equations were studied in the context of solving number problems. Quadratic equations were also studied and these examples led to a type of numerical algebra.

Geometric problems relating to similar figures, area and volume were also studied and values obtained for p.

The Babylonian basis of mathematics was inherited by the Greeks and independent development by the Greeks began from around 450 BC. Zeno of Elea's paradoxes led to the atomic theory of Democritus. A more precise formulation of concepts led to the realisation that the rational numbers did not suffice to measure all lengths. A geometric formulation of irrational numbers arose. Studies of area led to a form of integration.

The theory of conic sections show a high point in pure mathematical study by Apollonius. Further mathematical discoveries were driven by the astronomy, for example the study of trigonometry.

The major Greek progress in mathematics was from 300 BC to 200 AD. After this time progress continued in Islamic countries. Mathematics flourished in particular in Iran, Syria and India. This work did not match the progress made by the Greeks but in addition to the Islamic progress, it did preserve Greek mathematics. From about the 11th Century Adelard of Bath, then later Fibonacci, brought this Islamic mathematics and its knowledge of Greek mathematics back into Europe.

Major progress in mathematics in Europe began again at the beginning of the 16th Century with Pacioli, then Cardan, Tartaglia and Ferrari with the algebraic solution of cubic and quartic equations. Copernicus and Galileo revolutionised the applications of mathematics to the study of the universe.

The progress in algebra had a major psychological effect and enthusiasm for mathematical research, in particular research in algebra, spread from Italy to Stevin in Belgium and Vičte in France.

The 17th Century saw Napier, Briggs and others greatly extend the power of mathematics as a calculatory science with his discovery of logarithms. Cavalieri made progress towards the calculus with his infinitesimal methods and Descartes added the power of algebraic methods to geometry.

Progress towards the calculus continued with Fermat, who, together with Pascal, began the mathematical study of probability. However the calculus was to be the topic of most significance to evolve in the 17th Century.

Newton, building on the work of many earlier mathematicians such as his teacher Barrow, developed the calculus into a tool to push forward the study of nature. His work contained a wealth of new discoveries showing the interaction between mathematics, physics and astronomy. Newton's theory of gravitation and his theory of light take us into the 18th Century.

However we must also mention Leibniz, whose much more rigorous approach to the calculus (although still unsatisfactory) was to set the scene for the mathematical work of the 18th Century rather than that of Newton. Leibniz's influence on the various members of the Bernoulli family was important in seeing the calculus grow in power and variety of application.

The most important mathematician of the 18th Century was Euler who, in addition to work in a wide range of mathematical areas, was to invent two new branches, namely the calculus of variations and differential geometry. Euler was also important in pushing forward with research in number theory begun so effectively by Fermat.

Toward the end of the 18th Century, Lagrange was to begin a rigorous theory of functions and of mechanics. The period around the turn of the century saw Laplace's great work on celestial mechanics as well as major progress in synthetic geometry by Monge and Carnot.

The 19th Century saw rapid progress. Fourier's work on heat was of fundamental importance. In geometry Plücker produced fundamental work on analytic geometry and Steiner in synthetic geometry.

Non-euclidean geometry developed by Lobachevsky and Bolyai led to characterisation of geometry by Riemann. Gauss, thought by some to be the greatest mathematician of all time, studied quadratic reciprocity and integer congruences. His work in differential geometry was to revolutionise the topic. He also contributed in a major way to astronomy and magnetism.

The 19th Century saw the work of Galois on equations and his insight into the path that mathematics would follow in studying fundamental operations. Galois' introduction of the group concept was to herald in a new direction for mathematical research which has continued through the 20th Century.

Cauchy, building on the work of Lagrange on functions, began rigorous analysis and began the study of the theory of functions of a complex variable. This work would continue through Weierstrass and Riemann.

Algebraic geometry was carried forward by Cayley whose work on matrices and linear algebra complemented that by Hamilton and Grassmann. The end of the 19th Century saw Cantor invent set theory almost single handedly while his analysis of the concept of number added to the major work of Dedekind and Weierstrass on irrational numbers

Analysis was driven by the requirements of mathematical physics and astronomy. Lie's work on differential equations led to the study of topological groups and differential topology. Maxwell was to revolutionise the application of analysis to mathematical physics. Statistical mechanics was developed by Maxwell, Boltzmann and Gibbs. It led to ergodic theory.

The study of integral equations was driven by the study of electrostatics and potential theory. Fredholm's work led to Hilbert and the development of functional analysis.

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