1
$\begingroup$

Nowadays, it's nearly impossible to obtain a university degree in a scientific discipline without completing at least some basic coursework in Calculus, and often times advanced courses are required. Calculus itself was more or less discovered by Newton and Leibniz in the 17th and 18th centuries. Scientists functioned for centuries without it, yet today, Calculus forms a foundation for modern quantitative research methods and seems nearly indispensable for any sort of serious empirical research.

At what point did training in Calculus become an essential part of a scientific education? That is, at what point did Calculus switch from being an interesting tool that some people were playing around with (but was little more than a footnote for everyone else) to an essential tool that more or less everyone in science was expected to use, or at least be able to use? Was this a gradual process, with Calculus becoming more and more important as "easy" problems that could be solved without it were solved, or was there a watershed event that ushered it in, such as a war or a specific discovery? I'm imagining this as somewhat similar to the transition from slide rules to pocket calculators, where there was a ten-year (ish) transition period during which both "camps" had at least somewhat strong support (and people who refused to switch could still function), but is this anything close to reality?

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ It's been required for physicists for hundreds of years. It still isn't required for sociologists. $\endgroup$ – Ben Crowell Jan 21 at 21:45
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Scientists did not function for centuries without calculus. Modern institutionalized science dates back to 19th century, the term "scientist" did not take until later, see When and why did people stopped using “natural philosophy” term and started using “science”? When universities became commonplace in the early 19th century calculus was part of the standard curriculum for physicists and engineers. Even in 18th century, it was needed for learning Newtonian physics, as Euler's and D'Alambert's texts relied on it. $\endgroup$ – Conifold Jan 21 at 22:27
  • $\begingroup$ The answer strongly depends on the country. $\endgroup$ – Alexandre Eremenko Jan 22 at 1:41
  • $\begingroup$ Depends a LOT on the level of accuracy desired or required for the research or engineering in question. $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft Jan 22 at 12:45
  • $\begingroup$ Related: hsm.stackexchange.com/questions/8037/… $\endgroup$ – Spencer Jan 23 at 14:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.