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Primary Magazine - Issue 15: A little bit of history

This page has been archived. The content was correct at the time of original publication, but is no longer updated.
Created on 17 September 2009 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 07 October 2009 by ncetm_administrator

Primary Magazine Issue 15Lewis Carroll

A little bit of history - Lewis Carroll

We all know that Lewis Carroll was a famous author who wrote such stories as Alice in Wonderland, but did you know that he was also the man who gave us the Carroll diagram that we use in mathematics to sort or group objects or numbers against given criteria? The Carroll diagram was also known as ‘Lewis Carroll’s square’. In it, numbers or objects are either categorised as 'x' (having a characteristic x) or 'not x' (not having that characteristic).
His were more complicated than those you will see in a primary classroom! To find out more about them visit the Cut the Knot website.

Here’s an example of the Carroll diagrams we teach our children to use.
Sort these numbers according to whether they are even multiples of 3:
5, 6, 8, 12, 15, 18, 20, 21, 29, 35, 39, 40

Carroll diagram

You might like to use the interactive Carroll diagram found on the Nrich website with your children and then ask them to make some of their own with criteria of their choosing.

Now, about the man himself…
Lewis Carroll was born on 27 January 1832 as Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. As we all know, he was an English author whose most famous books were Through the Looking Glass, The Hunting of the Snark and Jabberwocky, as well as the previously mentioned Alice in Wonderland. As well as an accomplished author, he was also an exceptionally gifted mathematician.

Alice in Wonderland illustration by John TennielMost of Carroll’s ancestors were either army officers or Church of England clergymen. His father, also called Charles, was mathematically gifted, winning a double first degree at Oxford University. This could have led the way to a brilliant academic career, but he chose to marry his first cousin and become a country parson – and have 11 children! Lewis was the third child and eldest boy of this marriage. He was born in Daresbury, Cheshire. When he was 11, he and his family moved to Croft-on-Tees in North Yorkshire and this was where he spent the next 25 years of his life. He was a very intelligent child and for the first part of his schooling he was educated at home. At 12 he was sent away to boarding school, which wasn’t a particularly happy experience for him. However, academically he excelled. He went on to Oxford and his talent as a mathematician won him the Christ Church Mathematical Lectureship, which he held for 26 years, mostly because the money was good – the work bored him. After those 26 years he continued there, in various capacities until he died on 14 January 1898.

When he was young, he suffered from a fever which left him deaf in one ear and when he was 17, he had a severe attack of whooping cough which was probably responsible for his chronic chest condition in later life. He also suffered from a stammer throughout his life. However, it didn’t stop him from doing well socially. At the time when people mostly made up their own entertainment, Lewis Carroll was a success. He was an entertaining man, who could sing, was adept at mimicry, a great story teller and also good at charades.

His ambition was to make a mark on the world as a writer or artist. From a young age he wrote poetry and short stories which were published in national publications. Up until 1856 he wrote under his real name of Dodgson. Lewis Carroll is actually a play on his real name: Lewis is the English form of Ludovicus, the Latin for Lutwidge, and Carroll is an Irish surname similar to the Latin name Carolus, from which Charles comes.

Reginald Southey photograph by Charles DodgsonAs well as changing his name in 1856, he took up photography and soon excelled, becoming a well-known gentleman-photographer. He also made studies of such things as landscapes, skeletons, dolls, dogs and nudes. It wasn’t long before he was making portraits of people in higher society circles. For some reason, he stopped photography completely in 1880. This could be linked to the fact that he started having attacks of micropsia and macropsia (a brain condition affecting the way objects are perceived by the mind e.g. a sufferer may look at a larger object, like a football, and see it as if it were the size of a mouse). It is also thought he suffered from epilepsy.

Another area where he showed talent was inventions. He invented the first stamp case, a writing tablet that allowed for note-taking in the dark and several games made up from the logical rules of croquet, billiards and chess. Apparently he invented an early version of Scrabble and also the game, Word Ladder – changing a word into another by changing one letter at a time e.g. word to cool: word, wood, wool, cool.

For more information about Lewis Carroll visit these websites:

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