Theses Doctoral

A Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities at Teachers College: David Eugene Smith's Collection

Murray, Diane Rose

This dissertation is a history of David Eugene Smith's collection of historical books, manuscripts, portraits, and instruments related to mathematics. The study analyzes surviving documents, images, objects, college announcements and catalogs, and secondary sources related to Smith's collection. David Eugene Smith (1860 - 1944) travelled the world in search of rare and interesting pieces of mathematics history. He enjoyed sharing these experiences and objects with his family, friends, colleagues, and students. Smith's collection had a remarkable journey itself. It was once part of the Educational Museum of Teachers College. This museum existed from 1899 - 1914 and was quite popular among educators and students. Smith was director of the museum beginning in 1909, although, he had a major influence on the museum from the moment he began his professorship at Teachers College in 1901. After the Educational Museum of Teachers College disbanded, the collection was exhibited in numerous venues. George A. Plimpton (1855 - 1936) created the Permanent Educational Exhibit that housed both modern educational items, as well as, historical pieces for display. Since Smith and Plimpton were great friends and fellow collectors, Smith's collection was included in the historical section of Plimpton's establishment. Unfortunately, due to the hard times of the world at this moment, the Permanent Educational Exhibit closed in 1917. Smith continued to exhibit his collection of mathematical artifacts through the Museums of the Peaceful Arts, founded by George F. Kunz (1856 - 1932), the New York Museum of Science and Industry, Teachers College, and Columbia University. Smith's research, teaching, and publications were directly influenced by his collection. Throughout most of his published works are images and photographs of items in his collection. He also believed in the importance of having primary sources included in mathematics education. This view he followed in his own teaching, which included research in his collection. David Eugene Smith's collection could never be replicated and thus is quite unique and valuable. Smith donated his collection to Columbia University's Libraries in the 1930s. Various exhibits of his collection have occurred since then, the most recent concluded in 2003. The history of Smith's mathematical collection is important to the history of mathematics education as it displays the importance of preserving mathematical books, manuscripts, portraits, and instruments for future generations to research.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Mathematics Education
Thesis Advisors
Vogeli, Bruce R.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 30, 2012