Archive for History of Exact Sciences

, Volume 69, Issue 1, pp 55–102

Frigyes Riesz and the emergence of general topology

The roots of ‘topological space’ in geometry

DOI: 10.1007/s00407-014-0144-6

Cite this article as:
Rodríguez, L. Arch. Hist. Exact Sci. (2015) 69: 55. doi:10.1007/s00407-014-0144-6


In 1906, Frigyes Riesz introduced a preliminary version of the notion of a topological space. He called it a mathematical continuum. This development can be traced back to the end of 1904 when, genuinely interested in taking up Hilbert’s foundations of geometry from 1902, Riesz aimed to extend Hilbert’s notion of a two-dimensional manifold to the three-dimensional case. Starting with the plane as an abstract point-set, Hilbert had postulated the existence of a system of neighbourhoods, thereby introducing the notion of an accumulation point for the point-sets of the plane. Inspired by Hilbert’s technical approach, as well as by recent developments in analysis and point-set topology in France, Riesz defined the concept of a mathematical continuum as an abstract set provided with a notion of an accumulation point. In addition, he developed further elementary concepts in abstract point-set topology. Taking an abstract topological approach, he formulated a concept of three-dimensional continuous space that resembles the modern concept of a three-dimensional topological manifold. In 1908, Riesz presented his concept of mathematical continuum at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Rome. His lecture immediately won the attention of people interested in carrying on his research. They promoted his ideas, thus assuring their gradual reception by several future founders of general topology. In this way, Riesz’s work contributed significantly to the emergence of this discipline.

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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Applied Sciences FuldaFuldaGermany