My understanding is that the term "field" in science was first used in physics, while the mathematical term, at least the algebraic one, was more recent. Does anybody know when the first occurrence of the term appeared, and if there was any connection with the physical meaning?

  • $\begingroup$ Please clarify if you are asking about the algebraic notion of a field or the geometric notion of a (vector) field? They are completely different concepts. $\endgroup$
    – KCd
    Aug 3, 2015 at 18:56
  • $\begingroup$ I am more interested in the algebraic use, but if you have some data about the use of a vector field they are welcome too $\endgroup$
    – mau
    Aug 3, 2015 at 19:14
  • $\begingroup$ Then please make that clear in the actual question you are asking. You write about "the mathematical term," but both the algebraic and geometric concepts of field are absolutely mathematical terms. Of course the geometric one comes from physics, but it is also a mathematical term. $\endgroup$
    – KCd
    Aug 3, 2015 at 19:15

1 Answer 1


See Earliest Known Uses of Some of the Words of Mathematics, sub voce : Field :

The term Zahlenkörper (body of numbers) is due to Richard Dedekind (1831-1916) (Kline, page 1146). Dedekind used the term in his lectures of 1858 but the term did not come into general use until the early 1890s.

Eliakim Hastings Moore (1862-1932) was apparently the first person to use the English word field in its modern sense and the first to allow for a finite field. He coined the expressions "field of order $s$" and "Galois-field of order $s = q^n$." These expressions appeared in print in December 1893 in the Bulletin of the New York Mathematical Society III.75. The paper was presented to the Congress of Mathematics at Chicago on Aug.25, 1893.

At any event, a decade later Edward Vermilye Huntington [in 1904] wrote:

Closely connected with the theory of groups is the theory of fields, suggested by GALOIS, and due, in concrete form, to DEDEKIND in 1871. The word field is the English equivalent for DEDEKIND’s term Körper; KRONECKER’s term Rationalitätsbereich, which is often used as a synonym, had originally a somewhat different meaning.

It does not seem to me that there is indications of a relation with Maxwell's concept of the electromagnetic field ...

  • $\begingroup$ It's funny that while Deleting chose Körper, in English they preferred "field"... $\endgroup$
    – mau
    Aug 3, 2015 at 17:09
  • $\begingroup$ @mau did you mean Dedekind? $\endgroup$
    – Danu
    Aug 3, 2015 at 18:44
  • $\begingroup$ Damn autocorrection! $\endgroup$
    – mau
    Aug 3, 2015 at 18:45

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