A Brief History of LaTeX




title{A Brief History of LaTeX}
author{By: Hannah Pell}


{it{START HERE: This post was written according to LaTeX -style typesetting. I encourage you to copy and paste this text exactly as it appears into href{www.overleaf.com}{Overleaf} and click `Recompile’ or by downloading TeXShop to see what the document printout looks like.}}

Have you ever browsed physics preprints on the href{www.arXiv.org}{arXiv}, and noticed that many of the documents have a similar appearance? Obviously the {it{content}} differs, but the font, style, and general formatting of many preprints seem nearly uniform when you take a closer look.

Why is this? The answer can be found with a document preparation program called LaTeX (usually pronounced “lay-tekh”). LaTeX is useful for different kinds of publications, but its popularity has flourished particularly within mathematics and the sciences. Its introduction would fundamentally change how mathematics {it{appeared}} in journals and books in the 1980s and onwards, and today is considered a standard approach for preparing a scientific manuscript.

Let’s take a brief look at the history of this program and try to uncover why LaTeX has become the norm.

{bf{Intro to LaTeX}}
LaTeX is an associated program of TeX, a software for typesetting documents. Whereas word processors (such as Microsoft Word or Pages) are referred to as {it{`what you see is what you get’}} (often abbreviated as WYSIWYG in the computing world), TeX is a formatter, meaning that what I’m writing is separated from the visual appearance that it will take on the page (the words I write appear as plain text in the compiler). WYSIWYG programs don’t require the user to remember commands to edit the layout; if I want text {bf{bolded}}, I can simply highlight the text and click `bold.’ However, writing in LaTeX means I have tell the program exactly what to do using typesetting commands. Although this may sound more cumbersome, the TeX program algorithm takes care of the aesthetics of how what I’m writing will appear in the document, leaving me, the writer, left to only really care about the content.

TeX has a number of distinct advantages over word processors. First, it’s a freely-accessible program that can run on any system. It’s popularity also means that if you’re still learning (like me!), it’s likely you can find an answer to any coding- or package-related question you may have while preparing your document. There is an entire community behind TeX, collaborating on its open-source software to ensure that it produces the best possible outputs. LaTeX is a member of the TeX program family, which also includes Metafont, BibTeX, MakeIndex, dvips, pdfTeX and pdfLaTeX.

So who created these programs, and how did they become standardized?

{bf{A Brief History of LaTeX}}
In the 1970s, Stanford University computer scientist Donald Knuth was working on his forthcoming book, {it{The Art of Computer Programming}}. When he received his galley proofs back from the publisher, he realized that the then-new digital typesetting system was too poor quality for his liking. Knuth decided to come up with his own way; initially budgeting six months, the project — which would ultimately become the TeX program — took him href{https://www.ctan.org/tex}{almost ten years}. One year after Knuth began developing TeX, he gave a lecture at an American Mathematical Society meeting about his work, and it quickly garnered widespread use within the community. The name “TeX” is a combination of the Greek capital letters tau, epsilon, and chi, and it derives from ancient Greek meaning skill, art, and technique. Additionally, a membership-based not-for-profit organization called the TeX Users Group (TUG) was founded in 1980 for users of the TeX program; they publish a href{https://tug.org/tugboat/}{journal} titled “TUGboat.”

LaTeX was then developed by computer scientist Leslie Lamport in 1985. While Kluth was building the early versions of TeX in the 1980s, Lamport was in the process of writing his own book and found the popular macros available at the time to be inadequate. “I figured that, with a little extra effort, I could make a macro package that could be used by other people as well. That was the origin of LaTeX,” Lamport said in href{https://lamport.azurewebsites.net/pubs/lamport-latex-interview.pdf}{an interview}. Lamport later published {it{LaTeX: A Document Preparation System}} in 1986, which sold hundreds of thousands of copies, further popularizing the program.

(As an aside, rumor has it that the “La” in LaTeX is short for “Lazy-TeX,” because it’s considerably more user-friendly).

In 1989, fellow computer scientists Frank Mittelbach, Chris Rowley, and Rainer Sch”opf, took over the maintenance and development of LaTeX and released the current standard version — LaTeX 2e — in 1994, which was last updated in 2020.

{bf{Physics Examples}}
Let’s take a look at a few classic physics examples. If you haven’t copied this text into Overleaf or TeXShop, then what follows might look like a bit of a mess. I tried to pick a few representative cases, including the use of fractions, integrals, vectors, derivatives, bra-ket notation, and matrices.


item Special Relativity:
E_0 &= mc^2 

item Schr

“odinger Equation:
hat{H}ket{Psi} = ihbarfrac{partial}{partial t}ket{Psi}

item Gauss’ Law: 

varoiint vec{E} cdot dvec{A} = frac{Q}{varepsilon_0} 

item Pauli Spin Matrices: 

sigma_x = 
 0 & 1  
1 & 0 
sigma_y = 
0 & -i  
i & 0
sigma_z = 
 1 & 0 
0 & -1 


If you’ve made it this far and {it{still haven’t}} downloaded TeXShop or visited Overleaf to try writing something in LaTeX for yourself, I’d highly recommend it! It’s a great skill to work on as you’re learning more physics, and it makes really nice documents. (I mean, aren’t these equations just beautiful?)


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