This is a rudimentary overview of literature research resources in the history of mathematics. It is written for students to accompany my guide on How to write a history of mathematics essay.
When looking for literature you want to prioritise two types of sources:
Recent works by specialised researchers. Preferably written within the last ten or twenty years or so. This is way of ensuring that you are not relying on outdated or erroneous information. Also, following the references in a quality recent work is the easiest way of making sure you don’t miss anything important in the previous literature on the topic.
Primary sources, i.e., original texts written in the historical period you are studying, as opposed to secondary accounts by a modern historian. It is better to get crucial information whenever possible “from the horse’s mouth” instead of relying on the potentially misleading or biased accounts by others.
Finding secondary sources:
You have selected a topic and you want to find the best and the latest research on it:
A good place to start is MathSciNet. When you have found some key book or article, check also the “Citations” of this work listed in the database: this often leads to later work relevant to the topic. Google Scholar is also very useful for this purpose (“cited by”).
You don’t necessarily have a topic but want to get an idea about recent research:
You have found out which books and articles you need and now you want them in your hand:
Most articles are online these days. Many of the above links refer to subscription-based services. Chances are that you have access to these things through an institutional subscription. Normally they work automatically on a university network, or from home through a university login (often via university library site). Look for electronic journal subscriptions at university library website, or follow links in MathSciNet when available.
Books are often best to get in physical form. If your library does not have the book you need you should not hesitate to request it through interlibrary loan.
Older scholarly books that are now out of copyright can sometimes be found online; a good place to start is Archive.org.
Finding primary sources:
Other useful online resources:
MacTutor History of Mathematics archive
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Research Guide, History & Philosophy of Science, Cambridge University
History of Science Research Guide, Dibner Library
AAS History of Astronomy Online Resources
Islamic Science Research Guide
Resources in Dutch:
Een cultuurgeschiedenis van de wiskunde
Struik’s Geschiedenis van de wiskunde
Literatuurlijst 16e-18e eeuwse Nederlandstalige wiskunde
Nederlandse vertalingen van belangrijke teksten in de geschiedenis van de wiskunde
Christiaan Huygens in het Nederlands
Frans van Schooten
Geschiedenis en Maatschappelijke Functie van de Wiskunde
Suggestions for improvements to this guide are very welcome.