|Rare Book & Manuscript Library|
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At a Glance
Collection arranged in 4 series.
Using the Collection
Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Other Finding Aids
The David Eugene Smith Collection of works in Chinese on mathematics and other subjects: Link
The David Eugene Smith collection of works in Japanese on Japanese mathematics: Link
Japanese woodblock printed books and other unique Japanese materials at Columbia University: Link
Conditions Governing Access
You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.
This collection is located on site.
Collection is closed for digitization/conservation work. Some materials can be made available through special arrangement based on the condition of the items. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Certain items in the collection Requires staff member assistance to view in the reading room.
Conditions Governing Use
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Smith-Plimpton East Asian collection; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.
Tibetan Manuscript collection
Smith Indic/South and Southeast Asian collection
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Gift of David Eugene Smith and George Arthur Plimpton.
Edgren, Soren. "George Arthur Plimpton and His Chinese Connection." Columbia Library Column 40:1 (1990), 14-23.
Some items from the collection are also featured in Mathematical Association of American (MAA)'s Index to the Collection of Mathematical Treasures from the David Eugene Smith and George Arthur Plimpton collections. https://www.maa.org/press/periodicals/convergence/index-to-mathematical-treasures
About the Finding Aid / Processing Information
Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Processed by Yingwen Huang, 2022. Materials in this collection were processed to the item level. Series: Memorabilia is currently awaiting conservation assessment.
History / Biographical Note
Biographical / Historical
David Eugene Smith (January 21, 1860 – July 29, 1944): Mathematician. Professor of mathematics at the State Normal School, Cortland, N.Y., 1884-1891; at Michigan State Normal College, 1891-1898; at New York State Normal School, Brockport, N.Y., 1898-1901; and at Teachers College, Columbia University, 1901-1944. He was the editor of the Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society, the American Mathematical Monthly, and Scripta Mathematica, a member of the International Commission on the Teaching of Mathematics, 1908-1944; and librarian of Teachers College, 1902-1920. He was the author of Rara Mathematica (1907), The History of Mathematics (1924), and many other works on the history of mathematics as well as over forty mathematical textbooks and numerous journal articles. He also collected manuscript materials relating to the history of mathematics.
David Eugene Smith was born in January 1860 at Cortland, New York. He received his early education in Cortland and then went on to Syracuse University. From 1881-1884 he practiced law at Cortland before taking up the teaching of mathematics at the State Normal School in Cortland, 1885-1891. For seven years, thereafter, he was professor of mathematics at the Michigan State Normal College, Ypsilanti. After that he served three years as principal of the New York State Normal School at Brockport. In 1901 he was appointed professor of mathematics at Teachers College, Columbia University, where he taught until his retirement in 1926.
Not long after coming to Columbia, he started his annual trips abroad to collect items for his library. Over the years, he crossed the Atlantic seventy-four times and visited almost every country in the world. Besides printed and manuscript books, he collected documents, autograph letters, portraits of mathematicians, medals, counters, and a variety of mathematical and astronomical instruments.
His first trip to Japan was in 1907 and his intentions are made clear in one of his dictated notes as recorded in a memorial publication by Lao G. Simons: "In Japan, I simply laid down the rule that I wanted to buy every mathematical manuscript or printed book that could be found." With the collaboration of Mikami Yoshio, a distinguished scholar of Japanese and Chinese mathematics, he wrote A History of Japanese Mathematics, which was published in 1914.
In 1931 he gave Columbia University his library, which in a 1940 inventory numbered some 20,300 items. After fifty-five years of dormant presence, the Japanese language materials have finally bean cataloged, thus making them accessible to scholars and students. The major portion of the Japanese materials is on Japanese mathematics with a number of titles in the related fields of the abacus, surveying, astronomy, and calendar-making. Works touching on a few other subjects make up the balance.
David Eugene Smith died at his home in New York on July 29, 1944 at the age of 84.
George Arthur Plimpton (July 13, 1855-July 1, 1936): publisher and collector, college trustee and philanthropist. Phillips Exeter Academy, 1873; Amherst College, 1876. After a year at Harvard Law School, he began as salesman in the educational publishing house of Ginn and Heath, becoming a member of the firm in 1882. In 1914, he became head of the firm, renamed Ginn and Company, was active in it until 1931, and remained a member until his death on July 1, 1936.