Columbia University Archives

Samuel Eilenberg Papers, 1902-1996

Summary Information

At a Glance

Call No.: UA#0028
Bib ID 4080184 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Eilenberg, Samuel
Title Samuel Eilenberg Papers, 1902-1996
Physical Description 10.21 linear feet (9 record cartons, 1 half-size document box, 2 oversize boxes, 2 tube boxes)
Language(s) English , Polish , French , German .
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.

There are no restrictions on this collection.

The following boxes are located offsite: Boxes 1-12. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.



Arranged in seven series.



This collection contains materials either written or collected by Samuel Eilenberg, including original mathematics notes, books and article drafts and revisions, correspondence with fellow mathematicians, friends, art museums and collectors, photographs, and family, personal and legal documents spanning 1902 to 1996.

  • Series I: Personal Papers, Documents, and Correspondence, 1913-1996

    This series contains an especially wide range of materials in several different languages: biographical information about Eilenberg, including identity papers, passports, and legal documents; documentation of the academic honors and awards he received; correspondence concerning both his academic career and personal affairs; tax returns for the years 1980-94 and bank statements dating from the period 1969-92. The series is organized by type of material.

  • Series II: Art Collection Documents and Correspondence, 1902-1994

    This series provides considerable material documenting Eilenberg's collecting activities over a period of 40 years. Although the bulk of the series concerns his Indian and East Asian art collection, the series also provides evidence of his earlier collecting in other areas: coins, meerschaum pipes, and European art. The series combines documents pertaining to the acquisition and care of his art collection with considerable correspondence, much of it concerning art loans or bequests of art objects to collections in the U.S, Europe, and Israel. Overview information about Eilenberg's art collection and information about major bequests he made has been placed at the beginning of the series, and information about his other collections placed at the end, along with collection minutiae (e.g. storage & transportation documents), photos of his collection holdings, and printed articles about art and archaeology. Material within each individual filing unit is organized chronologically, with undated material at the end.

    The series also illustrates the truly worldwide nature of Eilenberg's collecting activities and sphere of correspondence, which included art dealers and contacts in Indonesia, Pakistan, Indonesia, Thailand, Ceylon, Japan, and throughout India, as well as correspondents in England, France, Holland, Switzerland, Germany, and Sweden—not to mention a great many individual curators and private collectors throughout the United States and Europe (Box 3, 8-24). Eilenberg's art activities brought him into frequent contact with museum directors, university presidents, curators, and art dealers, all seeking to cultivate relationships, as well as private collectors the likes of Avery Brundage and John D. Rockefeller III, whose 1962 letter expressed how "Mrs. Rockefeller and I greatly appreciated your stopping by the other evening to see some of our Asian art" and to provide an expert opinion on it (Box 3, Folder 4).

  • Series III: Math Notes, Writings, and Correspondence, 1930-1994

    This series contains Eilenberg's math notes and writings—a great many of which he left undated—and his math-related correspondence, a good deal of which is dated, at least in part. The series primarily includes: Eilenberg's hand-written math notes; what seem to be drafts or revisions of chapters of math books he authored or co-authored; photo-copies of math notes, chapter drafts, or revisions, often hand-annotated; correspondence with fellow-mathematicians about math questions or their joint efforts; possible lecture or class notes; copies of math papers or articles that Eilenberg filed in with his own notes (and which have been left in with his writings to preserve original order, as well as for the light they potentially shed on the genesis of his math work). Although most of the material in this series is in English, Eilenberg's student notebook is in Polish (Box 4, Folder 7), and other material is in French and German. Apart from Eilenberg's dated Polish notebook (1930-34), which fittingly begins the series, the rest of these mostly undated math notes and book chapters is organized by topic: the more substantial book chapters, revisions, and outlines are followed by a number of folders on various math topics, lecture or class notes, articles by Eilenberg, and math correspondence, respectively.

    The chapter drafts and revisions from various Eilenberg books form the largest portion of this series (Box 4, Folders 8-28; Box 5, Folders 1-27). Among the chapters themselves, the largest group appears to be connected with two volumes on General and Categorical Topology, works upon which Eilenberg collaborated with Eldon Dyer, but not published until 2000 by Cambridge University Press, two years after Eilenberg's death (Box 4, Folders 27-28; Box 5, Folders 1-27). The series also contains quite a bit of correspondence with Dyer, other book-related notes, and some of Dyer's own writings on the topic, some of which is dated (Box 6, Folders 1-6). This material thus documents one of in a series of "collaborations" with other mathematicians for which Eilenberg was renowned by other mathematicians.

  • Series IV: Select Math Papers and Copies of Articles Published by Others, 1933-1993

    This series comprises printed versions of math papers delivered by colleagues, select math clippings, a few copies of students' papers, and photo-copies of math articles published by others that Eilenberg thought worth preserving; unlike the papers and articles in Series III however, no body of correspondence accompanies these items. This series is organized by type of material, with math papers followed by photo-copies of printed articles.

    Of particular interest are materials relating to commemorative math papers and conferences honoring Eilenberg (Box 7, Folders 21-22). These conferences were held at the CUNY Graduate Center in 1974 (in connection with Eilenberg's 60th birthday the prior year) and at Columbia in 1984, and a special paper was delivered in 1993 by Andre Joyal and Myles Tierny in honor of Eilenberg's 80th birthday. Sanders MacLane also delivered a paper (undated) discussing Group Extension in the light of Eilenberg's interest and work. The 1974 CUNY conference led to a 1976 publication of the papers that were presented, augmented with additional ones, in a book entitled Algebra, Topology, and Category Theory (A Collection of Papers in Honor of Samuel Eilenberg), which bore a dedication from his "former students and associates." Among those contributing papers were: MacLane, Eldon Dyer, Maurice Auslander, Alex Rosenberg, Myles Tierney, and John Rhodes. This book was one which Eilenberg retained with his papers (one copy specially bound in gilt-stamped leather), and photo-copies of the table of contents listing of papers and authors, short profiles of the participants, and the dedication have also been added to Folder 21.

  • Series V: Legal Documents, 1956-1989

    This series is composed of legal documents, most of which concern the protracted and costly litigation stemming from Eilenberg's 1969 divorce from Natasha. Box 8, Folder 3 contains Eilenberg's Last Will & Testament, in addition to their legal separation and final divorce settlement papers. Some of this material is also pertinent to Eilenberg's Indian and East Asian art collection, since one of the allegations made by Natasha was that he was concealing the true extent and value of this collection, or even selling off parts of it covertly. Specific art collection inventories and other legal exhibits appear in Folders 4-6, but the collection is a consistently recurrent topic in many of the legal documents throughout the series. Additional complications (and further delay of a final divorce settlement) was provided by the separate, but closely related case of "Eilenberg v. Gemberling," where Eilenberg brought suit over a proposed Christies' auction of some art objects previously stolen from him while in storage (Folders 16-17). The series is organized by type of material.

  • Series VI: Oversize Items, 1930-1991

    This series includes oversize items: academic diplomas, honorary doctorates, certificates of other honors and awards, along with a few other large items. These include Eilenberg's honorary doctoral diplomas, his 1936 doctoral diploma, and other Polish academic diplomas. This series is arranged chronologically and housed in an oversize box and tube boxes.

  • Series VII: Photographs, circa 1920-1990

    This series contains a photograph album and various loose photos of Samuel Eilenberg, his friends, and associates over the years. The album contains photographic prints of Eilenberg as a youth and young man in Poland, as well as shots of various family and friends. The album is undated, as are many of the photographs in the manuscript box. Since the album includes photos of Eilenberg as a youth in Poland, as well as shots of him as a young professional, its photos can be tentatively dated as circa 1920-1948. The loose prints, collected and kept by Eilenberg over the years, include formal portraits, duplicates of photos used for identity and travel documents, and pictures during his travels. Of particular interest are the duplicate photos used for some of Eilenberg's identity cards from the 1940s (some signed in typical fashion as those used in passports), as well as him as an older man. In addition, there are scenes from Eilenberg travels, him teaching, a small set of reproductions of photos from Poland, and one sketch portrait of Eilenberg. As a group, the loose photos and sketch can be dated ca. 1940-90.

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

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.

There are no restrictions on this collection.

The following boxes are located offsite: Boxes 1-12. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library 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.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Samuel Eilenberg papers; Box and Folder; University Archives, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.


No additions are expected.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession 2001-015, April 2001.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Jeffrey P. Barton in Fall 2002.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Correspondence Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Drafts (documents) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Notebooks Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Photographic prints Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Art -- Collectors and collecting Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Art, East Asian Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University -- Faculty Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University -- Presidents Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University. Department of Mathematics Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Indian Art Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Jewish refugees Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Legal documents Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Mathematicians Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical Note

Samuel Eilenberg, born in 1913 in Warsaw, was a member of Columbia University's faculty in the Mathematics Department for almost fifty years. After receiving a degree from the University of Warsaw in 1934 and his doctorate in 1936 from the Universitas Joseph Pilsudski Varsovienis, Eilenberg went to England before emigrating to the United States in 1939.

In 1947, Eilenberg, after appointments at other universities, accepted an appointment in the Mathematics Department at Columbia University and served as its chairman from 1960-1963 and 1982-1983. In addition to his work at Columbia, Eilenberg was a collector of Indian and East Asian Art. After becoming Professor Emeritus in 1982, he went on to receive several honorary degrees and continued to teach in the United States as well as India. Eilenberg died in 1998.