The Logician in the Archive: John Venn's Diagrams and Victorian Historical Thinking

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J Hist Ideas. 2021;82(4):593-614. doi: 10.1353/jhi.2021.0034.


Like the overlapping circles of his famous diagrams, English probability theorist, logician, and historian John Venn (1834-1923) operated at a site of productive intersection. Across a career comprising seemingly disparate pursuits, Venn exhibited an epistemic apparatus shaped by a mathematical probability, formal logic, and British historicism. Scholarly interest in Venn has tended to isolate these elements; I argue that a deep continuity joined his projects. The unappreciated coherence of his work reveals larger convergent currents in Victorian historical thinking, a kind of statistical attitude according to which large series of elite individuals constituted the most illuminating historical subject.

PMID:34840190 | DOI:10.1353/jhi.2021.0034