David Eugene Smith Postcard Collection

Cover Image:
Bookplate poem from Album #1
Bookplate poem from Collected Postcard Album #1 - Image Source

Collection Facts

Dates of Original:

Historical Context

David Eugene Smith has garnered recognition as a founder of the field of mathematics education and has recently become the subject of study by scholars interested in his true influence in that field. The mission of Dr.Smith’s travels was usually two-fold; he engaged in collaborations with scholars across the globe in researching and documenting the development of ancient mathematics, while also collecting materials of historical value to add to his private library. His library, consisting of over 20,000 volumes, manuscripts, letters, and portraits documenting the history of mathematics was made available to his students for research, and was eventually donated to Columbia University at which he served as chair of the mathematics department of the teachers college.

In 2019, a conference was held in Paris with the theme “David Eugene Smith and the Historiography of Mathematics,” kickstarting systematic study of his work and influence in the realm of mathematics education. While much may be found concerning the scholastic activities of Smith, these postcards provide a yet unstudied representation of the private life of “Uncle D,” even if at a snapshot level, that appeal to casual historians and serious biographers alike.

Smith’s niece, Helen Jewett, was the main recipient of most of the cards. Others are addressed to Smith’s sister, Clara Jewett, or her husband, Alden Jewett, with the rare card sent to the Jewett family dog, Jack. Helen had the opportunity to join her uncle on several trips abroad, and developed local fame for her Little Bungalow Shop in which articles picked up during her travels were exhibited for viewing and research, and acted as a center of cultural activity in Cortland for many years. Considered an unofficial member of the faculty at the local college, she lectured on topics relating to her travels and her collected art and artifacts, as well as assisted students when writing papers by providing access to her collections and library of over one thousand volumes.