The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Agony columns the old version of love notes

There was increased interest in cryptography and this interest still persists today. Part of the drive in this interest was the telegraph. This is due to the need to protect and hide personal or private information that would be sent over the telegraph. An example of the increased awareness and use of encryption was shown in the “agony columns” in some newspapers. Forbidden lovers used these columns quite often during the Victorian era in England. This greatly reminds me of Romeo and Juliet except quite a long time later. This would have been a more efficient and safe way of communicating for them but that didn’t happen. These columns did spark the curiosity and interest of cryptanalysis. Because lets be real who wouldn’t want to see the secret messages of forbidden lovers. These columns would be like Victorian reality TV for those who decipher the codes. Lovers did not only use these columns, they were also used to create challenging ciphers for others to solve. I guess people would do this just for funsies since there is probably nothing else do in the Victorian era. These columns were also used to criticize political figures. During this era, speaking out against public officials was greatly frowned upon so this was a way to get some freedom of expression.


Environments that promote or discourage confidence in codes


Power of The Great Cipher

1 Comment

  1. Andrew

    This blog post really resonated with me, although it was mostly the final sentence that I found to be important. Speaking out against public officials is still a major issue in a large part of the world today. This has led to the use of many different uses of cryptography in the areas where speaking out is forbidden.
    In Victorian England they used encrypted “agony columns” to reach their lovers or to complain about officials. Currently, activists in many countries are using encryptions to write about their officials on the internet. One of the important differences between the agony columns of the Victorian era within England and today’s activists is that there are more opportunities for communication in this world.
    In today’s world of political activism, private communication can be accomplished through the use of e-mail, private chatrooms, or private websites. However, private communication, especially that which is encrypted, is likely to be monitored closely by the officials that the messages are about. Public communication is possible through comment sections, blogs, or social media sites, and if these messages are in code or encrypted, they are the most similar to Victorian England.
    It struck me as important to recognize the similarities between encryption in the past and encryption today. As the saying goes, history tends to repeat itself. I think this is especially applicable in the world of cryptography. Although cryptography and cryptanalysis are both constantly advancing, it’s important to recognize that both are used for the same things that they were used for centuries ago. From before Caesar until now, cryptography has been used for politics, romance, and so much more, but almost always the same few things.
    Agony columns to email dissidence, we are all after the same thing. Privatized communication is what matters most, and encryption is the best way to keep communication private.

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