In the context of mathematics and computer science, permutations refer to the different ways in which a set of items can be ordered or arranged. The significance of permutations lies in their fundamental role in combinatorial analysis, probability theory, and various algorithms. For a set of n distinct items, the number of possible permutations is n! (n factorial), which represents the product of all positive integers up to n. In computing, algorithms that generate permutations are crucial for solving problems related to sorting, optimizing, and configuring systems where the order of operations or elements impacts the outcome or efficiency.

Historical overview: The study of permutations can be traced back to ancient times, but a more formal mathematical treatment began in the 17th century with the work of mathematicians such as Leibniz. The concept became more rigorously defined and extensively studied in the 19th century as part of the development of modern algebra.

Key contributors: The formal study of permutations was significantly advanced by mathematicians like Pierre-Simon Laplace and Augustin-Louis Cauchy in the 18th and 19th centuries, respectively. Their work laid the groundwork for later developments in the field of combinatorics and permutation groups in group theory.