vector analysis

Vector Analysis (Gibbs/Wilson)

Vector Analysis is a book on vector calculus first published in 1901 by Edwin Bidwell Wilson. Its subtitle is "A Text-book for the use of students of mathematics and physics, founded upon the lectures of J. Willard Gibbs Ph.D. LL.D." This textbook did much to standardize vocabulary and notations for description of three-dimensional linear algebra in the twentieth century. It was reprinted in 1913, 1916, 22, 25, 29, 31, and 1943. In 1960 Dover Publications began to print and distribute this enduring textbook. It is now available on-line (see link below).


The first chapter covers 3-dimensional vectors in space, the concept of a (real) scalar, and the product of a scalar with a vector.

The second chapter introduces the dot product of two vectors and the cross product as well. These are extended to a scalar triple product and a quadruple product. Then in pages 77–81 one finds the essentials of spherical trigonometry, a topic of considerable value at the time due to its connection with celestial navigation.

The third chapter begins the vector calculus with the introduction of the del operator.


On the occasion of the bicentennial of Yale University, a series of publications were issued to underscore the important role of Yale in the advancement of knowledge. Gibbs was authoring Elementary Principles in Statistical Mechanics for the series. Mindful of the collegiate demand for innovative textbooks, the editor of the series, Professor Morris, sought to include a book-length treatment of the pamphlet on vectors that Gibbs used with students. But the professor had enough writing to do for Statistical Mechanics. The natural solution at a university is to enlist the services of a graduate student. One incoming graduate from Harvard was E. B. Wilson. It fell to Dean A.W. Phillips at Yale to persuade Wilson to take the Gibbs vector course. (Wilson already knew the material from his course on quaternions with James Mill Pierce at Harvard.) Once the course was completed, and Gibbs had gotten to know Wilson, then Morris approached Wilson for the project. Thus Wilson became the “author” of the book by expanding his class notes, providing exercises, and coordinating with other consultants, including his father.


External links

A free online version of the book

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