The works of Charles Ehresmann on connections: from Cartan connections to connections on fibre bundles

Tom 76 / 2007

Charles-Michel Marle Banach Center Publications 76 (2007), 65-86 MSC: Primary 53C05; Secondary 53B05, 53B10, 53B15, 70G45. DOI: 10.4064/bc76-0-4


Around 1923, Élie Cartan introduced affine connections on manifolds and defined the main related concepts: torsion, curvature, holonomy groups. He discussed applications of these concepts in Classical and Relativistic Mechanics; in particular he explained how parallel transport with respect to a connection can be related to the principle of inertia in Galilean Mechanics and, more generally, can be used to model the motion of a particle in a gravitational field. In subsequent papers, Élie Cartan extended these concepts for other types of connections on a manifold: Euclidean, Galilean and Minkowskian connections which can be considered as special types of affine connections, the group of affine transformations of the affine tangent space being replaced by a suitable subgroup; and more generally, conformal and projective connections, associated to a group which is no more a subgroup of the affine group. Around 1950, Charles Ehresmann introduced connections on a fibre bundle and, when the bundle has a Lie group as structure group, connection forms on the associated principal bundle, with values in the Lie algebra of the structure group. He called Cartan connections the various types of connections on a manifold previously introduced by É. Cartan, and explained how they can be considered as special cases of connections on a fibre bundle with a Lie group $G$ as structure group: the standard fibre of the bundle is then an homogeneous space $G/G'$; its dimension is equal to that of the base manifold; a Cartan connection determines an isomorphism of the vector bundle tangent to the the base manifold onto the vector bundle of vertical vectors tangent to the fibres of the bundle along a global section. These works are reviewed and some applications of the theory of connections are sketched.


  • Charles-Michel MarleInstitut de Mathématiques
    Université Pierre et Marie Curie
    4, place Jussieu
    75252 Paris Cedex 05, France

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