I am vaguely familiar with the broad strokes of the development of group theory, first when ideas of geometric symmetries were studied in concrete settings without the abstract notion of a group available, and later as it was formalized by Cayley, Lagrange, etc (and later, infinite groups being well-developed). In any case, it’s intuitively easy for me to imagine that there was substantial lay, scientific, and artistic interest in several of the concepts well-encoded by a theory of groups.
I know a few of the corresponding names for who developed the abstract formulation of rings initially (Wedderburn etc.), but I’m less aware of the ideas and problems that might have given rise to interest in ring structures. Of course, now they’re terribly useful in lots of math, and Z is a natural model for elementary properties of commutative rings, and I’ll wager number theorists had an interest in developing the concept. And if I wanted noncommutative models, matrices are a good place to start looking. But I’m not even familiar with what the state of knowledge and formalization of things like matrices/linear operators was at the time rings were developed, so maybe these aren’t actually good examples for how rings might have been motivated.
Can anyone outline or point me to some basics on the history of the development of basic algebraic structures besides groups?
For a nice introduction to the history of ring theory see the following paper
I. Kleiner. From numbers to rings: the early history of ring theory.
Elemente der Mathematik 53 (1998) 18-35.
SEALS: direct link to pdf, persistent link to article
Springerlink: direct link to pdf, persistent link to article