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A Historically Focused Course in Abstract Algebra Author(s): Israel Kleiner Source: Mathematics Magazine, Vol. 71, No. 2 (Apr., 1998), pp.

105-111 Published by: Mathematical Association of America Stable URL: . Accessed: 04/02/2011 16:53
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p. of dictum that"the "concrete"problems. The item"Solutionsof otherproblems"is intendedto conveyan important idea. fieldto help themsolvesuchproblems of This mini-history algebra suggeststhe major theme of the course. Modernalgebracame intoexistence because mathematiprincipally means.[27].This for and presentedan opportunity a challenge:What are some of the major ideas of Wh-at abstract algebrathatI wouldwantto impart? algebraic legacywould I wantto of leave thestudents with?Since thestudents werehighschoolteachers mathematics. Prior to the 19th centuryalgebra meant essentially the study of polynomial of axiomatic equations. WhatI do in thecoursecan be represented concrete schematically as follows: Prolem Problemus-> ASolutions Abstractions oforiginal problems Solutions other of problems [2].[14]. 2. it makesthe subjectcome to life.History pointsto the sourcesof abstract algebra. emerging the new concepts and results wereemployed thesolution in of moreimportant otherproblems. than. NO. is a confirmation Whitehead's It paradoxical are utmostabstractions the true weapons with which to controlour thoughtof fact"[18. 466]. at Students not do in so in follow thiscoursewithanother abstract to algebra. 71.[28]. All thissuggested me thatthe history mathematics to of shouldplayan important role in the course. and fields.[16]. from so-calledclassicalalgebraof the rings. I wantedthecoursealso to have at leastbroadrelevance their to as concerns teachers. problems superseded importance original problems In particular.the original I whichgave thembirth. OntarioM3J1P3 Canada Introduction I propose to describea course in abstract algebrawhichI taughtin an In-Service for Master'sProgramme Teachersof Mathematics our university.[17].[4].VOL. APRIL 1998 105 A Historically FocusedCourse inAbstract Algebra ISRAEL KLEIN ER YorkUniversity Toronto. hence to some of and its central ideas. namely showinghow abstractalgebra originated and sheds light on. ring. was namelythat the abstractconceptswhose introduction motivated concrete by in often the whichinspired them.In the20thcentury algebrabecame thestudy abstract. the solutionof in. The transition occurredin polynomial equationsto the so-calledmodernalgebraof axiomsystems the 19thcentury. often unrelated and sometimes to. it provides motivation. willcall the solutions such problems of problems "payoffs.hereis a history abstract for algebra-in 100 words or less." . systems such as groups. cians were unable to solve classicalproblems classical(pre-19th by century) the of and Theyinvented concepts group. of To set thecontext thecourse. I was fortunate nothaving I worry whether had coveredthisor thatmaterial the nextalgebracourse.

b)(c . c. Lettinga = 0 and c = 0 on symbolical algebra-that is. to axioms. is of of It deals withrelations betweenarithmetic abstract and algebra. and hence in Peacock's view required no justification. also becomes a law of no restrictions a.bc whenever a > b and c > d. [11]. WVhy (is )- MATHEMATICS MAGAZINE 1) = 1? This problem an instance the issue of justification the laws of arithmetic. and it leads the students to the conceptsof .b is a law of arithmetical algebrawhen b > c and a > (b . It becomes a law of symbolical algebraif no restrictions placed on a.The idea is to define (characterize) integers axiomatically an domainin whichthe positive elements well ordered([19]. by it The taskwas tackled members theAnalytical by of Society Cambridge at [21]. of by issues arisefrom accountabove: the Payoffs:The following (a) How can we establish (prove) a law such as (. and completes the proof. Thus symlbolical of algebra is the with symbols which need not subject-newly foundedby Peacock-of operations referto specificobjectsbut whichobey the laws of arithmetical algebra. The above problem became pressingfor English mathematicians the 19th of century.Peacock's for the justification identifying laws of symbolical algebrawiththose of arithmetical algebrais his Principle Permanence EquivalentFormts typeof Principleof of of (a Continuity goingback at least to Leibniz): are are Whatever twheien symlbols generalin the algebraic formls equtivalent in the twill forn butspecific valtue.d) = ac + bd .106 PROBLEM I. whichprovedthe mostinfluenof are interpretation the symbols is called for.c). and Hilbertian We now makea seventy-year forward takea modern. [24]).(b . be equivalent when. a .x)( . axiomatics. [7].b) = ab and a X 0 = 0. who wantedto set algebra-to themthismeantthe laws of operation with numbers-on an equal footing withgeometry providing withlogicaljustification.y) = xy. Since (a . 1) = 1? This question leads . signalled birth abstract of algebra[2]. d. Of course. In fact. b. of We can then readilyprove such laws as (. this being a law of arithmetic it and hence requiring the processwe mustdefinethe variousalgebraicconceptsthatenterintothe above characterization the integers. as Thus Peacock decrees that the laws of arithmetic shall also be the laws of (symbolical) algebra-an idea not at all unlikethe axiomatic approachto arithmetic.a)( .c) = a + c . For example. We cannotproveeverything. we can use Peacock's Principle to prove that(.Treatise Algebra(1830). orderedstructure. Peacock's majoridea was to distinguish between"arithmetical algebra" and "symbolical algebra.i)(- yields (- d) = bd. This was done in the moregeneralcontext rings Fraenkelin 1914 [4]."The former referred operations to involving onlypositivenumbers. We will focuson Peacock'swork. and c.For example. b. as follows. a becomingobjects of studyin theirown rightratherthaan languageto represent Some have said thatthese developments the relationships amongnumbers. symbols general ar:e in valueas twell inform. are orderedintegral the reals axiomatically the maximal as just as Hilbert (in 1900) characterized archimedean orderedfield[3]. without b)( - The significance Peacock's workwas thatsymbols of took on a lifeof theirown. integral and domain. leap approach as the to the above topic.

2. b E X. too.Alin was known ancientGreece over2000 yearsago. Simple algebrayields x = +5. hence x + V2i and x . . we proceedanalogously factoring leftside and get (x + v2 i)(x . of y = 3. In particular. cube rootof 1). threediophantine were embedded domainsG.Fi are Here. a2 + b2) is a solutionof X2 + y2 = 72. each is a square (in G). w a detailsare morecomplexhere [1]. in and introduced the 17thcentury solvedonlyrecently arbitrar-yThe problem and abstract betweennumber algebra. in = z2 and tlus obtain the equation the The keyidea is to factor leftside of x2 + z2 in the domainG = {a + bi: a. an equationin the domain D = {a + bF2 i: a.and it givesriseto theory deals withrelations examof domainand euclideandomain-important the concepts unique factorization rings.= a2 + b Conversely. + V. NO.b2. the though solution we are interested an "algebraic"solution-a legacyof the 19thcentury. the This sets the stage forthe does it mean to characterize integers? (d) WXhat of introduction the notionof isomorphism. argument = can be dealt with similarly: 3 =x 3+ y3 The Fermat equation x3 + (x + y)(x + yw)(x + yw 2)-an equation in the domain E = {a + bw: a.VOL.In particular. the because x and y are since x + yi and x .i = (a + bF/ i)3. Thus real x + yi (a + bi)2 (a2. the questionenablesus to introduce conceptsof ring. are UFDs.b E E} of Gaussianintegers. if not earlier. ples of commutative equation We begin with a simplerproblem. and E in whichthey because the respective manner = get all pythagoreantriples. APRIL 1998 107 This of (b) What axioms shouldwe set clownto give a description the integers? integral ordered domain. The technical primitive of the equationsabove Justifying "details" in the solutions the threediophantine of we the work. need to introduce notions unique involves considerable domain (UFD) and euclidean domain and to discuss some of their factorization The arithmetic equationscan be solvedin theindicated properties.v2i) = y3. y) = 1. the Here we introduce idea of (c) How do we knowwhenwe haveenoughaxioms? of completeness a set of axioms. It is easy to single out the primitiveones among them. + y5i)(x -'i) This In of domainshareswiththe integers property unique factorization. For example.2ab. x_ 2i) x cubes in D. We thus (XA = = = = the by Comingback to x2 + 2 = y'. Thisdiophantine equationis an exampleofthefamous for k. that is.b2) + 2abi. 71. is easilyshown a2 . the (e) Could we have used feweraxiomsto characterize integers? a + b = b + a is not needed. (a2-b 2. What the above showsis thattheyare the only solutions. as to (f) Arewe at liberty pickand choose axioms we please? This questionpermits and more broadly.we can showthat(x + y2i. b E T. Here we come face to face withthe conceptof of independence a set of axioms. and since x2 + it for that anya. D.the issue of us to introducethe notion of consistency.1) = 1 can be a richsourceof ideas! PROBLEM II.namelyto solve the diophantine x2 + w=z. (The innocent-looking problem 1)(. (induction). [9]. and well ordering ring.yi are relatively primein G (thisfollows relatively primein Z) and theirproductis a square. Whatare theinteger solutionis x2 + 2 = y3? of Bachetequationx2 + k = y3. of freedom choice in mathematics. b E E}. 1. with (x. y = 2ab. Of course it is easy to see thatthese are solutions xi + 2 = y3. to findall primitive Pythagorean triples. Comparing and imaginary partsyieldsx . particular.

Wantzelsolvedthetrisection problem 1837.b.The objectiveis to showthatall constructible numbers can be obtainedby an iteration the adjunction square roots. We can also construct.and he derivedconditions constructibility termsof the iteration in is similar spirit solutions polynomial of Wantzel'sapproach equations[30]. a is constructible. of and transcendental numbers [20]. More if so construct the field generally. We can therefore particular Fermatequation[14]. Here in of appear the elementsof a richsubject-algebraic numbertheory. is v/. of of To proceedwe need a numerical measureof how farQG(a) is removedfrom G. in Thus the basic goal became the construction real ntwnbers. (b) In arithmetic domainsin whichunique factorization we introduce. (b) A discussion algebraic [8].Enough machinery fieldextensions is introduced-and not much morethanthat-to solve the trisection problem[12].But what are they? a numbers easyto show. This introduces the importantnotion of field adjunc- Payoffs: as of (a) A characterization the real numbers a completeorderedfield[3].P-for all p < 100 [20]. are a + b. usuallygivenfollowing presentation Galois theory. This is a to I standard the of problem.Thus the constructible Givena unitlength1. of and rationalfunctions a given number of introducedirreducible polynomials in for of elements.ideals. 2. was of byWantzel. [9]. We use both.and it leads the students the conceptsof fieldand vectorspace. must persevere! of The initial idea was the translation the geometric key problemintothe language ofclassicalalgebra-numbersand equations. in A wordabouthistory versusgenesis. to of as we do: he reducedtheproblem the solution polynomial essentially equations. deals with relationsbetween geometry It and abstract algebra. The problem trisection nextphrasedin terms fields. the PROBLEM III. This occurred the 17thcentury. example. The problemof trisection posed about2500 yearsago but solvedonlyin 1837. the above imuplies we can construct rational that all numbers for G. put it as a to centre-stage a meansof providing "gentle"introduction fields. Our thanstrictly when thisservesour historical approachin thiscourseis geneticrather purpose. fails following Dedekind. a Can wve trisect 60'" angleuising onlystraightedge comnpass? and This is an instance one of thethreefamous of classicalconstruction problems going back to Greek antiquity. here the dimension QG(a) This leads to the conceptof degreeof a fieldextension. q G ?1.. he used neitherfieldsnor vectorspaces. The subject in originated a largeextent attempts solve such diophantine to to equationsas we have considered above. following introduction therequisite the One algebraic machinery. of oftenas rootsof equations.108 MATHEMATICS MAGAZINE Payoffs: (a) We can solveFermat's problem of abouttherepresentabilityintegers sumsof as two squares by a carefulscrutiny the primesin the domainG of Gaussian of integers [20]. and a/b (if b 0 0)-all thisis so form field. Although to the modernone. ab. .We can thereby obtaina proof Fermat'sLast Theorem of -the unsolvability integers x P + yP = z. a . This is now late-19th-centuwy of abstract algebra. QG1a) = {p + qx/: p. of of of is as a vectorspace overG. will mean"construction straightedge compass.") wvith and ("Construction" henceforth How do fieldsand vectorspaces enterthe picture? If a and b are constructible. as the diagonalof a unitsquare.

[27]. 1 + 2b. . (c) An essentially algebraic proofof the Fundamental of such as 3 + (d) Proofof the irrationality expressions PROBLEM V. namelythat 1.1 + b. obtaining algebraof triples reals analogousto the complexnumbers. of with and constructible straightedge comn(b) Classification the regular polygons a rather solution[25]. "Papa. is a beautiful important and result. associative) a division ring(a skewfield). in Implicit thisis the notionof a group. The proofs onlyveryelementary Euler's theorem. do discussthe theorem. Galoistheory. use group theory [23]. 71. NO.Moreover. twominor themes-ringsand vectorspaces. of we illustrating with it It examples.6x + 3 = 0 byradicals? Problem-s as this.then. and it has nice applications-payoffs -aside from solvability radicals. PROBLEMIV. (a) Proofs severalimportant Wilson'stheorem. Although Fundamental the Theoremof Galois Theory notneeded to resolvethe is problemof solvability the quintic. Theytouchon the relations betweenclassicaland abstract algebra. did lightupon a keyidea. itsmodern in incarnation. For thiswe need cyclotomic fieldextensions [8]. [27]..after to yearsof in of an effort. by Payoffs: of number-theoretic results: Fermat's "little"theorem. 1 + 3b. such dealingwvith solution equations radicals. of We begin where the history the subject begins: with Lagrange. the problem Although Galois theory pass. he Hamilton's sons of theirfather inquirewhether had succeeded. [6].for example. APRIL 1998 109 (c) A characterization finite of fields[10]. proofsof theorems oftenlong and somethe are in timestedious. is The intent thiscourse. + 672 [22]. Theoremof Algebra[25]. can you mlultiply triples?" of This problem deals with extensions the complexnumbersto hypercomplex The question in the title was asked by numbers.the quaternions. the of by gaveriseto Galois theory.But to do it in detailwould take almostan entireterm. [19]. x5 Can twe solve . to he Although did not resolvethe problem he of solvability the quinticby radicals.VOL. by I try givestudents sense of Lagrange's to a ideas by showing how permutations of the rootsof cubic and quarticequationshelp solve themby radicals[5]. namely of thatthe of of permutations the roots of a polynoomial equation are the "inetaphysics" its solvability radicals[17].and the payoff longin coming. between arithmetic/classical The problembears on relations algebra and abstract and it givesriseto the concepts an algebra(not necessarily of and algebra. a grandsymphony twomajorthemes is on and -groups and to get across some of the centralideas of Galois theory (such as the correspondence betweengroupsand fieldsand whatit is good for)oftenwithexamplesrather than proofs. Lagrange of analyzedpast solutions the cubic and quarticto see if he could findin them a commonmethodextendible the quintic.. yields quick can be resolvedusing some field theory(cyclotomic extensions)and very elementaiy grouptheory [23]. Galoistheory is thusa highlight any course in abstract of algebra.. containsinfinitely manyprimes. 2. on (d) Proofof a specialcase of Dirichlet's theorem primesin arithmetic progression.

Implicit these ideas are the notionsof division in Peirce.rings. I give the studentsa briefhistory complexnumbers.However. withthe solution the cutbic -was conceptually a "number system" Hamilton's quaternions-a noncommutative for the canons of arithmetic mostimportant development.An arose in connection important pointto keep in mindhere is thatcomplexnumbers of rather thanthe quadratic [15].and finally thatof a mostdifficult effective. be It (d) I havelistedonlyfiveproblems.our problemsintroduce groups. in are both is (e) No textbook used in the course. gently in (c) Whilethe sequenceoftopicsin algebrabooks. The histoiyof theirinvention 1843 is well documentedand gives a rare of [29]. and are extendiblein various directions. glimpse the creative processat vorkin mathematics Are there "numbers" beyond the quaternions? (What is a number. And its objectives be metusingsecondaiysources.and fields.manyreferences given.but I have found from and rich in algebraicideas." This is reflected the assignments. whichis "unnatural" students.and raised the obvious questionwhetherthere are numbersbeyond the octonions. they signalledthe transition classicalto modern(abstract) algebra. it liberatedalgebrafrom in [16]. in aside frombeing asked to do the Tlhus. Historically. [10]. used in thecoursecomesmainly from material secondaiy (f) The historical to sourceswould students primaly Asking (and instructors!) read and assimilate The as makethe courseunreasonably difficult. it [13]. students expectedto read some of them! sources. to group. powerof Galois theory cubic?Yes. leaves to the end the conceptually It notion. courseis quite challenging it is. was givenby Frobeniusand C.The idea is to (b) The first problembeginswitha "simple" numerical ease students intothe abstractions. and are technical and historical.anyway?) Graves'octonions (8-tuplesof reals) gave an affirmative Cayley's and. in of unavoidable the solution the so-calledirreducible (b) Are complexnumbers [3]. . S. indicated thevarious"payoff'sections. (a) The first themto be pedagogically enlightening abstract algebracourse. independently. on General remarks the course in and probably also the second.However.again independently ringand algebra. miglht arguedthatthisdoes notappearto are and the course.theen fields. question. answer. I have found this order to be mnore rings.and therefore algebracourses. are atypical an and last problems. There is a proofusingthe considerable field-extension but the resultcan also be established means of elementaiy by theory [26]. can wider mathematical ideas in additionto the (g) The course tries to deal withl standard algebraicfare:the "why" and "what for" in additionto the "how. This timethe answerwas negative. problems wvide-ranging be sufficient an entire for some of which are rich in ideas. Payoffs: theorem: can (a) Ideas on quaternions be used to prove Lagrange'sfour-squares is Everypositive integer a sum of foursquares[9].110 MATHEMATICS MAGAZINE of To set the scene. students first to is usually:groups.

Mathl. A.are tasks whichmathematics students not-but should are become-accustomed to. New of Springer-Verlag. Math. Kleinier. L. C.Miathi. 1995. Dover. Sheiiitzer. Deuit. 3-15.Goldstein.. Wright. K.Introdluction Algebra. of Numnbers. Clark. 1991. and anid 12. Numnbers. M. I. 1985. Galois Theory. DC. 8 11. Introductioni Modern/. A. Cliffs. A. _ of rinig L'Eniseign. 268-273. origins symbolical GeorgePeacockand the British algebra. Jahresb. Introdluctioni Theory Niunbers. 227-267.. York. 17. H. A. 26. G.Hist.stract Algebra:A FirstCourse. The rootsof comminiutative this MAGAZINE 68 (1995). (1900). of Pr.. _ _.NY. 1996.students expected write"mini-essays" are to involving bothhistorical and technicalmatters. Springer-Verlag. of Algebra. Washingtoni. H. die Reinieun. Towvard definition aniabstract the of rinlg.Pr. H. of 8 21. Mathi.Elements Ab. 2.Oxford. Clhapnman Hall. Kanitor A. 1990. 28.The Thleory Algebr-aic Math. AdamsaindL. Harperand Rowv. algebrain algebraicniumber theory. A. Birkhoff S.1976. 23-45.MAath. MacLanie. ed. H. Wiley. L. Thonmas. P. J.NY. L. anid tr. Eniglewood Cliffs. York. Herstein. 180-184. Richmani. Assoc. in 80 Currenit trenids algebra. New York. lMath. Hamilton-'s discoveiy quateriiioins. 27.. Peters. S. 1964. Algebra. Oxford. 1975. K. Solodovniikov. J. 14.Reclierclhes les nloyensde reconnaitre un Problime de Geometiie peut se sur si avec la regleet le compas. IA. NO.Galois Th1eory Algebraic of Eqluationis. 71. M. DC. (1974).Assoc.. of McGrawv-Hill. to Brooks/Cole. An. _ _. A.of America. Oxford to th. de resoudre Ptires Appl. Wiley. 23. byA. N. example. ed. Tignol. Birkhoff. 1978. D.NY. 13. VaniOsdol. Pollard and H. 1938. in 13 arithimetic. MAGAZINE 49 (1976). M. Pearson.Abstract S. MAGAZINE 56 (1986). 7. 24.Belmont. 197:3. Cullture. Num71berTheory:An. et . 5. _ of this _. _ . Brown. W.NY. 241-251. G. APRIL 1998 111 for in usual types problems. 16.NY. M. 227-234. in To read independently the mathematical literature. application Galois theoiyto elementary An of Advanices AMath. Initrodullctionl to Numiber Theory. 760-782. UK. to Win. of Algebra. Hilbert. UK. UK. Thinking 15.Joulr-.Amiier. the of (vith Teacher 81 (1988). Hardyand E. Harmonidsworth. ed. Impossibilities.VOL. D. A sketchof the evolution (nioncomiiiutative) theory. die Jouir. voni Uber die Teilerder Null unid Zerlegunig Rinigen. J. 1973. 139-176. Algebra. Pycior. derVerein. showthatthe additive of to inverse a ring is unique. G.NY. F. anid 3. Matli. L. to write about and whatthey have read. 10. Washington. Newv Hypei-coiitplex York. York.Monithly (1973). Swetz et al. R. Fraenkel.NY. Conicepts Moder-n-. 1971. G. I. _ the unitlhinikable: stoiy complexniumiibers a moral). The evolution grouptheory: brief of a survey. P. NY. Uber deniZahlbegriff. Diamoind. van der Waerdeii.Prentice-Hall. 19. I.. 2 (1837). Dubuque. W. Ab. REFERENCES 1. Burtoni in: anidD. 1975. 22. 195-215. Mathemitatics Westerni in1. 6.stract of Algebra.A History Algebra. 1989. I. 20. Morris. I. J. 4. R.. NJ. 30.. 29. Oxford Univ. 1984. 2.d Anigew. Jonies. H. 33 (1987).A Sulrvey lModerni 5th New York. London. 1975. Famnouis Spriniger-Verlag. J. Goldsteini.New York. B. Richards. 9.e 5th Uniiv. flir lath. Penguin. (1981). 1988. of America.Algebra. New Theory Eq1uationis. Eniglewood NJ. Prenitice-Hall. 1992.UK. 366-372. McCoy and G. . Kline. New York. 2nid Topicsin. by F.NY. N. 145 (1914). & 25. ClassicalAbstract Newv Algebra. CA. Wantzel. ed.. 8. example.Newv discuss De Morgan'scontribution for to it algebraand hoow advancedabstract algebraic thinking. Learnfiromit the Masters. Stewart. Dean. this 18.Janusz. 583-592.