A Guide to the Donald C. Spencer Papers, 1936-1998
Donald Clayton Spencer was an American mathematician, best known for his work with Kunihiko Kodaira inventing the modern theory of deformations of complex structures. His research also encompassed many other areas, including number theory, fluid mechanics, theory of one complex variable, Riemann surfaces, and partial differential equations.
Spencer was born in 1912 in Boulder, Colorado. He received a B.A. from the University of Colorado in 1934 and a B.S. in aeronautical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1936. He received an MIT scholarship to attend Cambridge University for doctoral work in mathematics at Trinity College. While there, he studied under J. E. Littlewood and G. H. Hardy and received his Ph.D. in 1939. He would return to Cambridge later in his career to receive his Sc.D. in 1963.
Spencer taught at MIT (1939-1942), Stanford (1942-1950,1963-1968), and Princeton (1950-1963, 1968-1978). During WWII, he worked with the Applied Mathematics Group at New York University (1944-1945). It was at Princeton in the 1950s and early 1960s that he collaborated with Kodaira on deformation theory. In 1965-1966, he received a Fulbright grant to conduct research in France. Spencer retired from Princeton in 1978 and moved to Durango, Colorado. An active hiker for much of his life, in retirement he became involved in the conservation and environmental movements.
Spencer’s awards and honors include the Bôcher Memorial Prize (1948, with A. C. Schaeffer), election to the National Academy of Sciences (1961), election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1967), an honorary Sc.D. degree from Purdue University (1971), and the President’s National Medal of Science (1987).
In 1936, Spencer married Mary Jo Halley, with whom he had two children, Maredith and Marianne. Following his divorce from Halley, he married Natalie Robertson Sanborn in 1951. They had one child, Donald Clayton Spencer, Jr. Spencer passed away in 2001.
The Donald C. Spencer Papers document Spencer’s professional and personal life, from his education in the 1930s through his retirement. Correspondence, notes, travel documents, and photos make up the bulk of the collection.
The Professional series concerns Spencer’s work as a mathematician and academic. Materials from Stanford and Princeton Universities document his academic career, particularly the operations of the mathematics departments in both places. His international travel for conferences and other mathematical purposes, particularly to Asia, is documented through correspondence, press clippings, and notes. Materials also document his election to and participation in various honorary organizations, particularly the National Academy of Sciences. Spencer’s own mathematical work, however, is only sparsely documented in this material.
Spencer’s correspondence richly details his personal and professional life during various periods. Subjects include relationships with his extended family and friends, work with graduate students and other mathematicians, and academic and departmental affairs. Incoming correspondence makes up the bulk of this material, although some outgoing letters are included. Additionally, correspondence is found throughout the other series of this collection.
The Personal series contains of variety of biographical material about Spencer. Included are materials from his education at Cambridge, CVs and listings of publications, materials documenting his international travels, genealogical materials, and photos.
Spencer’s writings and publications in this collection include copies of his PhD dissertation and related material, a work on Green and Neumann functions (in French), and publication material regarding a book on lie equations (written with Antonio Kumpera) and Spencer’s Selecta.
Forms part of the archives of American Mathematics.
These papers are stored remotely. Advance notice required for retrieval. Contact repository for retrieval.
Donald C. Spencer Papers, 1936-1998, Archives of American Mathematics, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
This collection was processed by Elliot Williams, November 2012.
Detailed Description of the Papers