The Grace Library – The Brilliant Booles

This is the third in a series of posts by 2nd year History student Eddie Meehan. Eddie is working on The Grace Library of the Department of Applied Mathematics, a collection of 17th to 19th century mathematics texts, centred around the collections of Walter and Alicia Stott and Duncan C Fraser, and named after Samuel Forster Grace. The collection is rooted firmly in the city and University of Liverpool, and particularly in the Liverpool Mathematics Society and the Worshipful Company of Actuaries.

Particularly connected to the Grace Library collection are the Boole family, partly through Walter Stott, the husband of Alicia Boole. The most famous Boole is George Boole, known for Boolean logic, a key component of computer science and the philosophy of logic. Operators used on computers today such as ‘AND’, ‘OR’ and ‘NOT’ are known as Boolean operators.

George Boole (1814-1864)

George Boole taught briefly in Liverpool at Mr Marrat’s School , which would become part of the expanding Lime Street Station, at 4 Whitemill Street. This move was forced on Boole due to the collapse of his father’s shoe-making business. The school was run by William Marrat, who was, much like George Boole, self-taught in maths and science.

His wife, Mary Boole, specialised in the education of maths, writing various texts on education along with a variety of other topics including the occult. She was entirely self-taught, and was involved in the writing and editing of many of George Boole’s works. She was also the niece of Sir George Everest, after who Mount Everest was named.

In the collection, there is a bound collection of papers collated by Francis William Newman, one of which is written by and has a pencil inscription by George Boole. The collection also holds a bound group of papers written by him and owned by his daughter, Alicia Boole. Outside of the Grace library, the university library possesses a range of items relating to the Booles, including holdings from the transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, which George Boole contributed to.

Dedication from Boole to Newman.

Alicia Boole was also a mathematician, focusing mainly on four dimensional geometry, which she became interested in after receiving a set of small coloured wooden cubes from her mathematician brother-in-law, Charles Howard Hinton. She became a very well regarded mathematician, so much so that she was elected the president of the Liverpool Mathematics Society in 1914 and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Groningen.

Many of the volumes in the collection are linked to Alicia Boole through her husband, Walter Stott, who was a local actuary. Stott worked for the Worshipful Company of Actuaries in Liverpool, and was also elected president of LivMS. Much of the collection bears bookplates from the Walter Stott collection, and many bear inscriptions from him.

The Grace Library – Ramchundra

This post was written by 2nd year History student Eddie Meehan.

The Grace Library of the Department of Applied Mathematics is a collection of 17th to 19th century mathematics texts, centred around the collections of Walter and Alicia Stott and Duncan C Fraser, and named after Samuel Forster Grace. The collection is rooted firmly in the city and University of Liverpool, and particularly in the Liverpool Mathematics Society and the Worshipful Company of Actuaries. I’m working on the collection as part of History in Practice, a work experience module available for second year history students at the university.

One item I catalogued in the Grace Library collection was A treatise on problems of maxima and minima, solved by algebra, written by the Indian mathematician Ramchundra in 1850. Ramchundra was born in 1821 in Panipat into a family of the Kayastha caste – a Hindu caste of bureaucrats – to a father who worked in the Indian revenue service. His father died in 1831, which forced Ramchundra into marriage in 1832 at just eleven years old, almost certainly for the financial support the dowry would provide. Ramchundra was able to pursue some education at the English Government School in Delhi and later at Delhi College, where he was later appointed to a teaching role. Here, he pursued his own work; the most significant of which was the Treatise that is in the Grace collection in Liverpool.

Noted mathematician Augustus de Morgan published the work in 1859 in London to try and bring it to a wider audience outside of India, despite poor reviews from other British mathematicians working in India. During this period, there was an increasing belief in Britain that the colonial subjects of the British Empire should be ‘educated’ in European ways. This atmosphere may have stimulated de Morgan’s interest in the work, but it also hindered its acceptance. Despite being published in London, the book received little interest from scholars in Britain and Europe. Ramchundra is not particularly well known even to this day in mathematics – books have been written on topics covered by him that do not even mention his work.

The Grace collection contains two copies of the work – one published in Calcutta and thus the original, and a copy of the London published version with de Morgan’s foreword. The London version was presented by the Secretary of State for India to a Reverend Dr. Bland, suggesting that it was at least recognised by the governing authorities in India. It isn’t clear how the original came into the possession of Walter Stott and Alicia Boole and then Duncan Fraser, who bequeathed the book to the University as part of the Walter Stott collection.