Origin of Venn Diagrams

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Venn diagrams were commonly used by logicians, mathematicians and English teachers to create a logical connection between ideas, numbers and symbols. The diagrams appear as two or more circles that overlap and in between the overlapping places similarities between the two ideas are shown. The Venn diagram is named after its creator a British mathematician John Venn (1834-1923). The diagrams were in use much earlier by logicians in numerous exercises but, they are frequently associated with John Venn, because he is the one that brought them into formal use in the 1880’s. Ever since, they have been in use, in most places, even by scientists, to show similarities between different sets.

Venn himself did not refer to ‘Venn Diagrams’ but kept talking of ‘Eulerian Circles’. In his 1880 article opening speech, Venn declared that many diagrammatic representations had been introduced in logical analysis in the previous century such that everyone, even those with no logical analysis background had to conform to them. Of all these schemes, one that was accepted was the ‘Eulerian Circles’. The Euler Diagram is a diagrammatical way of representing sets of items or numbers and their relationships. It is associated with a Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler (1707-1783) and being similar to the Venn Diagrams was incorporated as part of instruction in set theory in the new Maths movement of the 1960’s. Since then, they have been adopted in other areas such as reading.

The Venn diagrams have their roots in diagramming logical problems. After presenting his paper, entitled ‘On the Diagrammatic and Mechanical Representation of Propositions and Reasoning’, Venn’s name was common in the field of logic hence the name Venn Diagrams! We could say that this is the time when the name became of use officially. The Venn Diagrams comprises of overlapping circles, the elements within the set are   similar. Those on the exterior are not members of the same set, and therefore different. For instance, in a two circular Venn diagram, one circle may represent a set of wooden objects and another set of chairs; therefore the items in the overlapping region represent all wooden chairs.

One of the uses of the Venn diagram is to organize information based on similarities and differences. An illustration on this is given on how a teacher can use it in class by Barton (2008). The teacher had to discuss a topic on the differences in the schooling system now and 100 years ago. The students had to do the work by collecting information themselves. She began demonstrating on the topic by drawing a diagram on the chalkboard, one side representing 100 years ago and the other representing the present time. The students had to each make their own diagrams and record their findings on the relevant sides of the diagram. This was of much use. It made it simpler when they came to compiling their work, and writing a report on their findings as the Venn Diagrams enabled them to view the information in one piece.

One limitation, however, is that they could only get the differences between those two periods, and this is one of drawbacks of using the Venn Diagrams. It is difficult to examine relationships between four objects because the ways the circles overlap make it hard to read the shared area. This problem was encountered by Lewis Carroll, but he could not get a remedy until 1988 when A.W.F Edwards solved this problem by coming up with a tennis ball like diagram. He made a diagram that could compare 5 plus objects.

The Venn Diagrams are currently extremely efficient and are used in many fields. They have been instrumental in logic and can be adopted in doing almost everything.

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