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Mathematical Treasure: George Boole on Differential Equations

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University)

George Boole (1815–1864) is best remembered for his contributions to logic; however, he also did much work on differential equations. This self-educated mathematician and philosopher became the first Professor of Mathematics appointed at the Queen’s College, Cork, Ireland, later to become the Queen’s University. His Treatise on Differential Equations, published in 1859, was a major work. The title page of a copy of the fourth edition of 1877 is shown above. In writing this book, Boole adhered to an historical approach as he indicated in the preface:

The reason for grounding the order of exposition upon the historical sequence of discovery, that by so doing we are most likely to present each new form of truth to the mind, precisely at the stage at which the mind is most fitted to receive it, or even, like that of the discoverer, to go forth to meet it.


A view of the Table of Contents of Boole’s Differential Equations, shown above, reveals topics that are quite familiar to the modern reader.

The Special Collections staff at the Linderman Library of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is pleased to cooperate with the Mathematical Association of America to exhibit this and other items from the Library’s holdings in Mathematical Treasures. In particular, Convergence would like to thank Lois Fischer Black, Curator, Special Collections, and Ilhan Citak, Archives and Special Collections Librarian, for their kind assistance in helping to make this display possible. You may use these images in your classroom; all other uses require permission from the Special Collections staff, Linderman Library, Lehigh University.

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University), "Mathematical Treasure: George Boole on Differential Equations," Loci (May 2014)