It’s been a while since I’ve posted on this blog, but there are some posts I’m currently working on about some subjects I’m also currently studying (that’s why it’s taking so long, as I’m trying to digest the ideas as much as I can before I can post about it). But anyway, for the moment, in this short post I’ll be putting up some links to articles on the history of algebraic geometry. Aside from telling an interesting story on its own, there is also much to be learned about a subject from studying its historical development.
We know that the origins of algebraic geometry can be traced back to Rene Descartes and Pierre de Fermat in the 17th century. This is the high school subject also known as “analytic geometry” (which, as we have mentioned in Basics of Algebraic Geometry, can be some rather confusing terminology, because in modern times the word “analytic” is usually used to refer to concepts in complex calculus).
The so-called “analytic geometry” seems to be a rather straightforward subject compared to modern-day algebraic geometry, which, as may be seen on many of the previous posts on this blog, is very abstract (but it is also this abstraction that gives it its power). How did this transformation come to be?
The mathematician Jean Dieudonne, while perhaps more known for his work in the branch of mathematics we call analysis (the more high-powered version of calculus), also served as adviser to Alexander Grothendieck, one of the most important names in the development of modern algebraic geometry. Together they wrote the influential work known as Elements de Geometrie Algebrique, often simply referred to as EGA. Dieudonne was also among the founding members of the “Bourbaki group”, a group of mathematicians who greatly influenced the development of modern mathematics. Himself a part of its development, Dieudonne wrote many works on the history of mathematics, among them the following article on the history of algebraic geometry which can be read for free on the website of the Mathematical Association of America:
But before the sweeping developments instituted by Alexander Grothendieck, the modern revolution in algebraic geometry was first started by the mathematicians Oscar Zariski and Andre Weil (we discussed some of Weil’s work in The Riemann Hypothesis for Curves over Finite Fields). Zariski himself learned from the so-called “Italian school of algebraic geometry”, particularly the mathematicians Guido Castelnuovo, Federigo Enriques, and Francesco Severi.
At the International Congress of Mathematicians in 1950, both Zariski and Weil presented, separately, a survey of the developments in algebraic geometry at the time, explaining how the new “abstract algebraic geometry” was different from the old “classical algebraic geometry”, and the new advantages it presented. The proceedings of this conference are available for free online:
The articles by Weil and Zariski can be found in the second volume, but I included also the first volume for “completeness”.
All proceedings of the International Congress of Mathematicians, which is held every four years, are actually available for free online:
The proceedings of the 2014 International Congress of Mathematicians in Seoul, Korea, can be found here:
Going back to algebraic geometry, a relatively easy to understand (for those with some basic mathematical background, anyway) summary of the work of Alexander Grothendieck’s work in algebraic geometry can be found in the following article by Colin McLarty, published in April 2016 issue of the Notices of the American Mathematical Society: