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The Papers of George Boole: Home

About the Collection

Collection Ref.:             IE BP/1
Title:                            The Papers of George Boole
Dates:                            1846-1910
Level of description:     Item
Extent:                           3 boxes
 
Administrative History:

The papers preserved here were collected by Boole’s sister Maryann after his death, to provide the sourcework for a proposed biography by her. They were subsequently purchased at auction by UCC.

Biographical History:

George Boole (2 November 1815 – 8 December 1864) was an English mathematician and philosopher, most recognized as the inventor of Boolean Logic, which is the basis of modern digital computer logic. He was awarded the first Royal Medal in mathematics for his 1844 On a General Method in Analysis, published in the Transactions of the Royal Society, and was in 1849 appointed first Professor of Mathematics at the Queen's College in Cork (now University College Cork).

Born in 1815 to Mary Ann Joyce (1780-1854) and John Boole (1777-1848) in Lincoln, England, Boole was the son of parents of modest means. He had 3 siblings Maryann (1818 –1887), Charles (1819 –1888) and William (1821 –1902). His father, a cobbler by trade, had an abiding love of science, literature and mathematics much to the detraction, and ultimate collapse, of his business affairs. George Boole being a deeply religious man had intended as a young man to enter the Ministry but was forced owing to his family's circumstances to teaching, working in Doncaster, Waddington and Liverpool before establishing his own school in Lincoln at age 19.

Boole's father died in December 1848 before the decision had been made concerning the Irish chairs but an announcement came in August 1849 that Boole was to become the first Professor of Mathematics at Queen's College, Cork, and he took up the position in November. He taught at the University for the rest of his life, gaining a reputation as an outstanding and dedicated teacher.

In 1855 he married Mary Ann Everest and they had 5 children, all daughters Mary Ellen (b. 1856), Margaret (b. 1858), Alice (b. 1860, Lucy (b. 1862) and Ethel (b.1864).

On 8 December 1864 Boole died prematurely at his home in Ballintemple, Co. Cork aged only 49. Hhe died of an attack of fever, ending in effusion on the lungs. He is buried in Blackrock, a suburb of Cork.

Content:

The collection consists mainly of personal letters to and from Boole, the original order having been lost an artificial order was imposed by the Archivist during processing. Very few of Boole’s academic works are preserved here, however drafts of unpublished lectures dealing with such topics as astronomy, ancient mythology, education and one entitled "Are the Planets Inhabited?" are extant.

Boole’s letters home to his sister after his arrival in Ireland contain valuable social information on the Cork of the mid nineteenth century, where lavish banquets were given to the elite while crowds of beggars thronged the streets. In October 1849 he describes one encounter with Cork’s poor which "far exceeded in horror anything not only that I had ever before witnessed but that I had even read of." He was present in Cork for the great flood of 1850, and was trapped upstairs in his lodgings by the flood waters, while friends of his were forced to traverse the streets in a boat.

The insights Boole’s letters give into the world of 19th century academia can be amusing as well as informative, as when in a letter to his friend, Dr. John Bury, he inquires whether or not his wife should continue to wear stays (corsets) while ‘confined’. The constant financial worries evidenced throughout his letters reflect a system by which professors were paid according to the number of students who had enrolled in their classes.

A large section of the collection contains material relating to Boole’s wife, Mary Everest,(after whose uncle the world’s highest peak was named), and their five daughters. One daughter, Mary Ellen Hinton spent some years in Japan as a teacher at the close of the century. Her diary, which contains wonderful descriptions of the sights she saw and people she met, is preserved here. Another daughter, Ethel Lilian Voynich, was the author of the novel ‘The Gadfly’ which she wrote after an affair with the renowned secret agent, Sydney Reilly.

Boole had been appointed to the chair of mathematics at Queens College, Cork in 1849 and was to remain teaching there for the rest of his life, gaining a reputation as an outstanding and dedicated thinker.

In 1854 he published An investigation into the Laws of Thought, on Which are founded the Mathematical Theories of Logic and Probabilities. Boole approached logic in a new way reducing it to a simple algebra, incorporating logic into mathematics. He pointed out the analogy between algebraic symbols and those that represent logical forms. It began the algebra of logic called Boolean algebra which now finds application in computer construction, switching circuits etc.

Boole also worked on differential equations, the influential Treatise on Differential Equations appeared in 1859, the calculus of finite differences, Treatise on the Calculus of Finite Differences (1860), and general methods in probability. He published around 50 papers and was one of the first to investigate the basic properties of numbers, such as the distributive property, that underlie the subject of algebra.

Many honours were given to Boole as the genius in his work was recognised. He received honorary degrees from the universities of Dublin and Oxford and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (1857). 
Today Boole is best remembered as the originator of Boolean Logic - a fundamental step in today's computer revolution, and the basis for all modern computer software.

Boole’s achievements are all the more impressive when you consider he was entirely self taught. He received only the most basic schooling, but was imbued from his childhood  by his father with a love of mathematics. He never attended University or gained a formal qualification in his chosen subject.

Access & Use

Email:  specialcollectionsarchives@ucc.ie

Finding Aid: Descriptive list (see separate tab above, next to 'Home' tab)

Additional Collection Information

Language: English

Related Material:  

The George Boole Papers Digitisation Project online access to digital copies of the Papers of George Boole held in UCC Library. 

George Boole Examination Book, UCC Library Archives Service. A turning the pages edition of The George Boole Examination Scrapbook is available here. This was created during George Boole 200*.

The Thomas Hewitt Papers, Cork City and County Archives www.corkarchives.ie

U15B/P/A 30    Cuverian Society   2 notices of lectures and newscutting re. meeting, George Boole in chair. Jan. 1855, Special Collections, UCC Library. To order this material, please email specialcollectionsarchives@ucc.ie 

​George Boole* 200 - UCC's celebration of George Boole's Bicentenary in 2015 

Copyright: UCC Library (in the main). Publications may rest with original copyright holder, please check with Archivist.

Collection Image

  George Boole (BP/1/356)