- Abstract algebra
Abstract algebra is the subject area of mathematics that studies algebraic structures, such as groups, rings, fields, modules, vector spaces, and algebras. The phrase abstract algebra was coined at the turn of the 20th century to distinguish this area from what was normally referred to as algebra, the study of the rules for manipulating formulae and algebraic expressions involving unknowns and real or complex numbers, often now called elementary algebra. The distinction is rarely made in more recent writings.
Contemporary mathematics and mathematical physics make extensive use of abstract algebra; for example, theoretical physics draws on Lie algebras. Subject areas such as algebraic number theory, algebraic topology, and algebraic geometry apply algebraic methods to other areas of mathematics. Representation theory, roughly speaking, takes the 'abstract' out of 'abstract algebra', studying the concrete side of a given structure; see model theory.
Two mathematical subject areas that study the properties of algebraic structures viewed as a whole are universal algebra and category theory. Algebraic structures, together with the associated homomorphisms, form categories. Category theory is a powerful formalism for studying and comparing different algebraic structures.
As in other parts of mathematics, concrete problems and examples have played important roles in the development of algebra. Through the end of the nineteenth century many, perhaps most of these problems were in some way related to the theory of algebraic equations. Major themes include:
- Solving of systems of linear equations, which led to matrices, determinants and linear algebra
- Attempts to find formulae for solutions of general polynomial equations of higher degree that resulted in discovery of groups as abstract manifestations of symmetry
- Arithmetical investigations of quadratic and higher degree forms and diophantine equations, notably, in proving Fermat's last theorem, that directly produced the notions of a ring and ideal
Numerous textbooks in abstract algebra start with axiomatic definitions of various algebraic structures and then proceed to establish their properties, creating a false impression that somehow in algebra axioms had come first and then served as a motivation and as a basis of further study. The true order of historical development was almost exactly the opposite. For example, the hypercomplex numbers of the nineteenth century had kinematic and physical motivations but challenged comprehension. Most theories that are now recognized as parts of algebra started as collections of disparate facts from various branches of mathematics, acquired a common theme that served as a core around which various results were grouped, and finally became unified on a basis of a common set of concepts. An archetypical example of this progressive synthesis can be seen in the theory of groups.
Early group theory
There were several threads in the early development of group theory, in modern language loosely corresponding to number theory, theory of equations, and geometry.
Leonhard Euler considered algebraic operations on numbers modulo an integer, modular arithmetic, proving his generalization of Fermat's little theorem. These investigations were taken much further by Carl Friedrich Gauss, who considered the structure of multiplicative groups of residues mod n and established many properties of cyclic and more general abelian groups that arise in this way. In his investigations of composition of binary quadratic forms, Gauss explicitly stated the associative law for the composition of forms, but like Euler before him, he seems to have been more interested in concrete results than in general theory. In 1870, Leopold Kronecker gave a definition of an abelian group in the context of ideal class groups of a number field, a far-reaching generalization of Gauss's work. It appears that he did not tie it with previous work on groups, in particular, permutation groups. In 1882 considering the same question, Heinrich M. Weber realized the connection and gave a similar definition that involved the cancellation property but omitted the existence of the inverse element, which was sufficient in his context (finite groups).
Permutations were studied by Joseph Lagrange in his 1770 paper Réflexions sur la résolution algébrique des équations (Thoughts on Solving Algebraic Equations) devoted to solutions of algebraic equations, in which he introduced Lagrange resolvents. Lagrange's goal was to understand why equations of third and fourth degree admit formulae for solutions, and he identified as key objects permutations of the roots. An important novel step taken by Lagrange in this paper was the abstract view of the roots, i.e. as symbols and not as numbers. However, he did not consider composition of permutations. Serendipitously, the first edition of Edward Waring's Meditationes Algebraicae (Meditations on the Algebraic) appeared in the same year, with an expanded version published in 1782. Waring proved the main theorem on symmetric functions, and specially considered the relation between the roots of a quartic equation and its resolvent cubic. Mémoire sur la résolution des équations (Memoire on the Solving of Equations) of Alexandre Vandermonde (1771) developed the theory of symmetric functions from a slightly different angle, but like Lagrange, with the goal of understanding solvability of algebraic equations.
- Kronecker claimed in 1888 that the study of modern algebra began with this first paper of Vandermonde. Cauchy states quite clearly that Vandermonde had priority over Lagrange for this remarkable idea, which eventually led to the study of group theory. 
Paolo Ruffini was the first person to develop the theory of permutation groups, and like his predecessors, also in the context of solving algebraic equations. His goal was to establish impossibility of algebraic solution to a general algebraic equation of degree greater than four. En route to this goal he introduced the notion of the order of an element of a group, conjugacy, the cycle decomposition of elements of permutation groups and the notions of primitive and imprimitive and proved some important theorems relating these concepts, such as
- if G is a subgroup of S5 whose order is divisible by 5 then G contains an element of order 5.
Note, however, that he got by without formalizing the concept of a group, or even of a permutation group. The next step was taken by Évariste Galois in 1832, although his work remained unpublished until 1846, when he considered for the first time what is now called the closure property of a group of permutations, which he expressed as
- ... if in such a group one has the substitutions S and T then one has the substitution ST.
The theory of permutation groups received further far-reaching development in the hands of Augustin Cauchy and Camille Jordan, both through introduction of new concepts and, primarily, a great wealth of results about special classes of permutation groups and even some general theorems. Among other things, Jordan defined a notion of isomorphism, still in the context of permutation groups and, incidentally, it was he who put the term group in wide use.
The abstract notion of a group appeared for the first time in Arthur Cayley's papers in 1854. Cayley realized that a group need not be a permutation group (or even finite), and may instead consist of matrices, whose algebraic properties, such as multiplication and inverses, he systematically investigated in succeeding years. Much later Cayley would revisit the question whether abstract groups were more general than permutation groups, and establish that, in fact, any group is isomorphic to a group of permutations.
The end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century saw a tremendous shift in the methodology of mathematics. Abstract algebra emerged around the start of the 20th century, under the name modern algebra. Its study was part of the drive for more intellectual rigor in mathematics. Initially, the assumptions in classical algebra, on which the whole of mathematics (and major parts of the natural sciences) depend, took the form of axiomatic systems. No longer satisfied with establishing properties of concrete objects, mathematicians started to turn their attention to general theory. Formal definitions of certain algebraic structures began to emerge in the 19th century. For example, results about various groups of permutations came to be seen as instances of general theorems that concern a general notion of an abstract group. Questions of structure and classification of various mathematical objects came to forefront. These processes were occurring throughout all of mathematics, but became especially pronounced in algebra. Formal definition through primitive operations and axioms were proposed for many basic algebraic structures, such as groups, rings, and fields. Hence such things as group theory and ring theory took their places in pure mathematics. The algebraic investigations of general fields by Ernst Steinitz and of commutative and then general rings by David Hilbert, Emil Artin and Emmy Noether, building up on the work of Ernst Kummer, Leopold Kronecker and Richard Dedekind, who had considered ideals in commutative rings, and of Georg Frobenius and Issai Schur, concerning representation theory of groups, came to define abstract algebra. These developments of the last quarter of the 19th century and the first quarter of 20th century were systematically exposed in Bartel van der Waerden's Moderne algebra, the two-volume monograph published in 1930–1931 that forever changed for the mathematical world the meaning of the word algebra from the theory of equations to the theory of algebraic structures.
Abstract algebra facilitates the study of properties and patterns that seemingly disparate mathematical concepts have in common. For example, consider the distinct operations of function composition, f(g(x)), and of matrix multiplication, AB. These two operations have, in fact, the same structure. To see this, think about multiplying two square matrices, AB, by a one column vector, x. This defines a function equivalent to composing Ay with Bx: Ay = A(Bx) = (AB)x. Functions under composition and matrices under multiplication are examples of monoids. A set S and a binary operation over S, denoted by concatenation, form a monoid if the operation associates, (ab)c = a(bc), and if there exists an e∈S, such that ae = ea = a.
Examples of algebraic structures with a single binary operation are:
More complicated examples include:
- Vector spaces
- Algebras over fields
- Associative algebras
- Lie algebras
- Boolean algebras
- Coding theory
- Publications in abstract algebra
- Allenby, R.B.J.T. (1991), Rings, Fields and Groups, Butterworth-Heinemann, ISBN 978-0-340-54440-2
- Artin, Michael (1991), Algebra, Prentice Hall, ISBN 978-0-89871-510-1
- Gilbert, Jimmie; Gilbert, Linda (2005), Elements of Modern Algebra, Thomson Brooks/Cole, ISBN 978-0-534-40264-8
- Lang, Serge (2002), Algebra, Graduate Texts in Mathematics, 211 (Revised third ed.), New York: Springer-Verlag, ISBN 978-0-387-95385-4, MR1878556
- Sethuraman, B. A. (1996), Rings, Fields, Vector Spaces, and Group Theory: An Introduction to Abstract Algebra via Geometric Constructibility, Berlin, New York: Springer-Verlag, ISBN 978-0-387-94848-5
- Whitehead, C. (2002), Guide to Abstract Algebra (2nd ed.), Houndmills: Palgrave, ISBN 978-0-333-79447-0
- W. Keith Nicholson, Introduction to abstract algebra
- John R. Durbin, Modern algebra : an introduction
- Raymond A. Barnett, Intermediate algebra; structure and use
- John Beachy: Abstract Algebra On Line, Comprehensive list of definitions and theorems.
- Edwin Connell "Elements of Abstract and Linear Algebra ", Free online textbook.
- Fredrick M. Goodman: Algebra: Abstract and Concrete.
- Judson, Thomas W. (1997), Abstract Algebra: Theory and Applications, http://abstract.ups.edu An introductory undergraduate text in the spirit of texts by Gallian or Herstein, covering groups, rings, integral domains, fields and Galois theory. Free downloadable PDF with open-source GFDL license.
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