Professor George Boole

UCC, BP/1/356, Photo of George Boole standing, by Samuel Prout Newcombe (c1824-1912), before 1865 George Boole FRS (1815-1864), first Professor of Mathematics at Queen's College, Cork, 1849-1864

George Boole (2 November 1815-8 December 1864) was born at Lincoln, England, the son of John Boole (1779-1848) and his wife Mary Ann Joyce. He had little formal education and was largely self-taught in mathematics, Latin and other subjects. At age 16, Boole became the breadwinner for his parents and three younger siblings, taking up a junior teaching position in Doncaster at Heigham’s School and he taught briefly in Liverpool. At the age of 19, Boole set up his own school in Lincoln. Later he took over Hall’s Academy in Waddington, near Lincoln, before returning to the city where he ran a boarding school. He took part in local society and began making contact with academic mathematicians. In 1844, Boole’s paper ‘On a General Method in Analysis’ won the first gold prize for mathematics awarded by the Royal Society.[1] His contacts were useful as references in his application in 1849 for the position of professor of Mathematics at the newly opened Queen’s College, Cork. To mark his departure from Lincoln, his friends and neighbours gave him a public supper, chaired by the Mayor, and at which, as a testimonial of their regard, he was presented with ‘a valuable collection of books and a silver inkstand’.[2] This desk set, now known as the ‘Boole Inkstand’,  is on display in the Boole Library, UCC, on loan from his great-great-grandson Prof. Geoffrey Hinton.

In 1850 Boole met his future wife, Mary Everest, at Cork when she was visiting her uncle, John Ryall who was professor of Greek and vice-president at the College. They were married in 1855 and had five daughters, of whom Alicia made important contributions to four-dimensional geometry.

At Cork, Boole was a beloved lecturer and the obituary in the Illustrated London News noted that he visited his students when they were unwell and helped out those of limited means.[3] In the academic year 1863-64, Boole was lecturing every day to students in the Schools of Arts and of Engineering. Being in a steady employment he now had a good, reliable income so he could spend time on his own research. His own work on Differential Equations was used as a textbook along with Potts’ School Euclid, Wolstenholme’s Solid Geometry and the works of Isaac Todhunter.[4] While not heavily active in the College administration as an officer, he was a member of the library committee.[5] He also was involved in local life,  being president of the Cork Cuvierian Society. He was awarded the Keith Medal by the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1855 and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1857. After his appointment to QCC, he received honorary degrees of LL.D. from the University of Dublin (Trinity College) in 1851 and that of D.C.L. from the University of Oxford.

Boole died on 8 December 1864 as a consequence of walking in heavy rain from his home in Ballintemple, a suburb of Cork city, to his lectures at the College. He is buried in the Church of Ireland graveyard of St Michael’s, Church Road, Blackrock, Cork. Obituaries were published widely in the newspapers of Ireland and Britain.

George Boole worked in the fields of differential equations and algebraic logic, and is best known as the author of An investigation of the laws of thought (1854) which contains Boolean algebra. Boolean logic is credited with laying the foundations for the information age. Other significant works are the two systematic treatises on mathematical subjects: A treatise on differential equations (1859) and A treatise on the calculus of finite differences (1860). He published over 50 articles.

In the collection of the Boole Library, UCC, are first editions of some of Boole’s publications, An investigation of the laws of thought: on which are founded the mathematical theories of logic and probabilities (with notes in manuscript by Boole) (1854), A treatise on differential equations (1859) and A treatise on the calculus of finite differences (1860). There are some papers of George Boole at UCC's Boole Library.

Within two years of Boole’s death, two stained glass windows were erected in his memory. One is in Lincoln Cathedral that is called ‘The Teaching Window’. The stained glass window, found in the fourth window of the north wall of the cathedral, depicts the calling of Samuel 3:1-10, his favourite Bible passage, at the request of his widow. This window was installed in September 1866.[6]

The other window is in Cork. Just days after Boole’s death, a meeting of the Professors of QCC was held on Saturday, 17 December 1864, at which it was resolved to fund a memorial within the College. Notices of this resolution appeared in the local press within the following week[7] and also in Dublin.[8] A committee was formed for the purpose with members drawn from the QCC staff. J. D. Carnegie, manager of the National Bank in Cork, was named as the person to whom subscriptions to the scholarship and memorial could be sent. The window was installed by December 1866. This memorial window, presumably replacing the original plain glass and created by the firm of Hardman & Company, Birmingham, is in the eastern gable of the Aula Maxima.

In 1984 the new Boole Library and Lecture Complex at UCC was officially opened by Dr Patrick Hillery, President of Ireland.[9] Also in that year Tadhg Ó Ciardha, President of UCC, unveiled a plaque at Boole’s former home, ‘Lichfield’, Blackrock Road, Cork.[10]

A bust of Boole was installed facing the Library during the year-long events at UCC that marked the bicentenary of his birth. Also in that year, UCC commissioned a documentary film, ‘The Genius of George Boole’, narrated by actor Jeremy Irons. Boole’s great-great-grandson Dr Geoffrey Hinton, a distinguished computer scientist, contributed to this film. Boole’s biographer, Des MacHale (Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at UCC) published an updated edition of the biography (Cork University Press, 2014). Much information about his life and work as well as an extensive series of events, including films, carried out during 2015 have been archived in a special website.

 

 

Archival papers of George Boole or connected to him

Amsterdam, Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis, Archives Charles William Daniel Company, includes manuscripts (typescripts) by Mary Everest Boole [(1815-) 1906-1992 1906-1992]

Chicago, University of Chicago Library, Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection, Integration: manuscript, [Autograph document. Essay on mathematical integration, ca. 1850].

Cork, University College Cork, Boole Library, BP/1, The papers of George Boole [1846-1910] and BP/1/A, George Boole Ancillary Collection [1849-1954] (this includes Royal Irish Academy, 12 K. 45 (on permanent loan since 1978))

Cork, University College Cork, Boole Library, BL/SC/GB, George Boole examinations book [Scrapbook containing mathematical examination papers set by George Book during his time as the first Professor of Mathematics, Queen's College Cork. 1850-1874].

Cork, University College Cork, Boole Library, U.216, Pencil sketch of George Boole [possibly the portrait donated by C. H. Foott, MSc to Queen’s College, Cork, in 1927 (UCC Governing Body meeting held on 21 October 1927)]

Dublin, Trinity College, Library, MS 2398 (Q. 5. 44), Symbolic logic being an essay towards a calculus of deductive reasoning, by George Boole [19th cent.]

Washington, DC, Library of Congress, Music Division, ML31.V75, Ethel L. Voynich papers  [1928-1948]

 

Select bibliography of publications of George Boole

The mathematical analysis of logic, being an essay towards a calculus of deductive reasoning (Cambridge: Macmillan, Barclay, & Macmillan, 1847)

An investigation of the laws of thought: on which are founded the mathematical theories of logic and probabilities (London: Macmillan, 1854)

A treatise on differential equations (Cambridge: Macmillan, 1859)

A treatise on the calculus of finite differences (Cambridge: Macmillan, 1860)

 

‘Researches in the theory of analytical transformations, with a special application to the reduction of the general equation of the second order’, Cambridge Mathematical Journal Vol. 2, No 8 (February 1840), 64–73

‘On certain theorems in the calculus of variations’, Cambridge Mathematical Journal 2 (1841), 97-102

‘On the integration of linear differential equations with constant coefficients’, Cambridge Mathematical Journal 2 (1841), 114-119

‘On a new method of analysis [abstract]’, Abstracts of the Papers Communicated to the Royal Society of London, Vol. 5 (1843-1850), 499-500

‘On a general method in analysis’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 134 (1844), 225-282

‘On discontinuous functions’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Vol. 3 (1844-1847), 182-184

‘On a certain definite multiple integral’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Vol. 3 (1844-1847), 217-218

‘On a certain multiple definite integral’, Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, Vol. 21 (1846), 140-149

‘On the analysis of discontinuous functions’, Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, Vol. 21 (1846), 124-139

‘On the solution of the equation of continuity of an incompressible fluid’, with Charles Graves Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Vol. 6 (1853-1857), 375-386

‘On the comparison of transcendents, with certain applications to the theory of definite integrals [abstract]’, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 8 (1856-1857), 461-463

‘On the comparison of transcendents, with certain applications to the theory of definite integrals’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 147 (1857), 745-803

‘On the differential equations of dynamics. A sequel to a paper on simultaneous differential equations [abstract]’, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 12 (1862-1863), 420-424

‘On simultaneous differential equations of the first order in which the number of the variables exceeds by more than one the number of the equations’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 152 (1862), 437-454

‘On the theory of probabilities [abstract]’, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 12 (1862-1863), 179-184

‘Supplement to a paper on the differential equations of dynamics [abstract]’, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 12 (1862-1863), 481

‘On the integration of simultaneous differential equations’, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 12 (1862-1863), 13-16

‘On simultaneous differential equations in which the number of variables exceeds by more than unity the number of the equations [abstract]’, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 12 (1862-1863), 184

‘On the theory of probabilities’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 152 (1862), 225-252

‘On the differential equations which determine the form of the roots of algebraic equations  [abstract]’, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 13 (1863-1864), 245-246

‘On the differential equations of dynamics. A sequel to a paper on simultaneous differential equations’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 153 (1863), 485-501

‘On the differential equations which determine the form of the roots of algebraic equations’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 154 (1864), 733-755

Link to Boole works on Internet Archive

 

Sources

‘The late Professor Boole, of Queen’s College, Cork’, Illustrated London News, 21 January 1865, 11 and 13 (with engraving portrait)

‘George Boole*200’ (webpage) https://www.georgeboole.com/

The genius of George Boole’, History Ireland, vol. 23 issue 6 (Nov/Dec 2015)

Barry, P. D., ‘Boole Window’, UCC Record 37 (1962)

Lande, Harry, ‘Boole window designer identified’, College Courier (Spring 2002), 20-1

MacHale, Des, George Boole: his life and work (Cork: Boole Press, 1985).

MacHale, Des, The life and work of George Boole: a prelude to the digital age (new edition). (Cork: Cork University Press, 2014)

Murphy, John A., The College: a history of Queen’s / University College Cork (Cork: Cork University Press, 1995)

O’Rahilly, Ronan, ‘Stained glass windows in the Aula Maxima’, Cork University Record 18 (Easter, 1950)

 

Papers published to celebrate the centenary of the Laws of Thought

Broderick, T. S., ‘The centenary of Boole's ‘Laws of thought’, Cork University record, 30 (Summer, 1955)

Brouwer, L. E. J., ‘The effect of intuitionism on classical algebra of logic. (Written in connection with the Celebration of the Laws of Thought, 24th May, 1954)’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Vol. LVII, sect. A, (Nov. 1955), 113-116

C., J., ‘Professor Boole of the Queen’s College, Cork’, Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, Ser. 2, Vol. X (1904), 69-71

Celebration of the centenary of the Laws of Thought by George Boole, 24th May, 1954 (being four letters written in connection with the occasion)’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Vol. LVII, sect. A, (Nov. 1955), 63-65

Craven, T. L., ‘An engineering application of Boolean algebra. (Written in connection with the Celebration of the Laws of Thought, 24th May, 1954)’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Vol. LVII, sect. A, (Nov. 1955), 121-130

Feys, Robert, ‘Boole as a logician. (Written in connection with the celebration of the Laws of Thought, 24th May, 1954)’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Vol. LVII, sect. A, (Nov.1955), 97-106

Feys, Robert., ‘Boolean methods of development and interpretation. (Written in connection with the Celebration of the Laws of Thought, 24th May, 1954)’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Vol. LVII, sect. A, (Nov. 1955), 107-112

Hackett, Felix E., ‘The method of George Boole. (Written in connection with the celebration of the Laws of Thought, 24th May, 1954)’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Vol. LVII, sect. A, (Nov.1955), 79-87

Ivo, Thomas, ‘Boole's concept of science. (Written in connection with the celebration of the Laws of Thought, 24th May, 1954)’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Vol. LVII, sect. A, (Nov.1955), 88-96

Mac Conaill, M. A., ‘A generalized Boolean class-logic’, Philosophical studies, Vol. XIII (1964), 7-19

Mac Conaill, M. A., ‘Boole Centenary celebrations, 1964. George Boole, F. R. S. (1815-1864)’, U. C. C. record, 40 (1965)

Rhees, Rush, ‘George Boole as student and teacher. By some of his friends and pupils. (Written in connection with the celebration of the Laws of Thought, 24th May, 1954)’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Vol. LVII, sect. A, (Nov. 1955), 74-78

Rosser, J. Barkley, ‘Boole and the concept of a function. (Written in connection with the celebration of the Laws of Thought, 24th May, 1954)’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Vol. LVII, sect. A, (Nov. 1955), 117-120

Taylor, Geoffrey, ‘George Boole, 1815-1864. (Written in connection with the Celebration of the Laws of Thought, 24th May, 1954’, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Vol. LVII, sect. A, (Nov. 1955), 66-73

 

References

[1] George Boole, ‘On a general method in analysis’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Vol. 134 (1844), 225-282.

[2] ‘Death of Dr George Boole, of Queen’s College, Cork’, Stamford Mercury, 16 December 1864, 5.

[3] ‘The late Professor Boole, of Queen’s College, Cork’, Illustrated London News, 21 January 1865, 13.

[4] Report of the President of Queen’s College, Cork, for the year 1863-64, 93.

[5] For example, he was member of the library committee on 21 October 1854, UCC University Archives, UC/MB/CC/01, Queen’s College, Council Minutes, Vol. 1.

[6] Cork Constitution, 15 September 1866, 3.

[7] See Cork Daily Reporter 28 December 1864, Cork Constitution 29 December 1864.

[8] Saunder’s News-Letter 31 December 1864.

[9] ‘£8m Boole Library’, Evening Echo, 28 September 1984, 2; ‘Only the best for UCC’, Irish Examiner, 29 September 1984, 9.

[10] Evening Echo, 12 November 1984, 5.

 

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