University of Texas, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History

A Guide to the Donald C. Spencer Papers, 1936-1998

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Spencer, Donald C.
Title: Donald C. Spencer Papers
Dates: 1936-1998
Abstract: The Donald C. Spencer Papers (1936-1998) 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.
Accession No.: 2012-298
Extent: 2 ft. 3 in.
Language: Materials are primarily in English, with small amounts in French, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese.
Repository: Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Note

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.

Scope and Contents

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.



The papers are arranged into four series:
I. Professional
II. Correspondence
III. Personal
IV. Writings and Publications


Access Restrictions

Unrestricted access.

Use Restrictions

These papers are stored remotely. Advance notice required for retrieval. Contact repository for retrieval.

Index Terms

Subjects (Persons)
Spencer, D. C. (Donald Clayton), 1912-2001
Kodaira, Kunihiko, 1915-
Subjects (Organizations)
National Academy of Sciences (U.S.)
Princeton University. Dept. of Mathematics
Stanford University. Dept. of Mathematics
Trinity College (University of Cambridge)
Mathematics--Study and teaching (Higher)--United States
Boulder (Colo.)
Princeton (N.J.)
Stanford (Calif.)
Tokyo (Japan)

Related Material

Material from Spencer’s work during World War II can be found in the Mathematical Association of America, History of American Mathematics in World War II Committee Records, 1943-1983, Archives of American Mathematics, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin..

Records of his travel to China in 1973 are located in the National Archive on Sino-American Relations records, 1971-1984, held by the Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Donald C. Spencer Papers, 1936-1998, Archives of American Mathematics, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Elliot Williams, November 2012.

Detailed Description of the Papers



2012-298/1 Faculty Activities
Stanford University, 1962-1970
Astronomy and cosmology, 1961-1965
Princeton University, 1968-1977
Institue for Advanced Study, Bellah controversy, 1973
Conferences and Travel
Mexico trip, 1963
Tokyo trip, 1966
Japan trip, 1966, 1974
2012-298/2 Conference on Complex Variables and Partial Differential Equations (in honor of Spencer), Princeton, 1972
Santiago de Compostela, Spain, 1972
China trip, 1973-1981
International Conference on Several Complex Variables, Huangzhou, China, 1981
Algebraic Topology and K-Theory Conference, Princeton, 1983
American Assocation for the Advancement of Science, 1961, undated
National Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1967
National Academy of Sciences, Report of the Foreign Secretary, April 1973
National Academy of Sciences, membership nominations and other correspondence, 1987-1989



2012-298/2 "Precious letters," 1947-1949, 1961-1968
Paris, 1953-1955
2012-298/3 General, 1963-1972
General, 1965-1972, 1988
Russian professional correspondence, 1966-1967
Kolata, "Calabi Conjecture" article, 1977
Jack F. Conn recommendations, 1985-1987
Kodaira, 1987-1994
General [Incoming and some outgoing], 1988-1989
2012-298/4 H. White, "On Real Valued Bases," 1981, undated
R. Over, age and creativity, 1993



2012-298/4 "Biobibliographic data," 1961-1984, undated
Clippings, Princeton and Colorado, 1978-1984
University of Cambridge, 1936-1940
Sc.D., University of Cambridge, 1961-1970
Genealogy, 1971-1979, undated
"Looking Back" autobiographical sketch, undated
Passports and other travel documents, 1936-1981
Photos, 1996-1998, undated
2012-298/5 Sc.D., Purdue University (honorary), 1971


Writings and Publications

2012-298/5 Dissertation [includes handwritten computations], circa 1939
On a Hardy-Littlewood Problem of Diophantine Approximation, circa 1939
Lie Equations, Annals Studies Vol. 1 [with A. Kumpera], 1971-1975
Selecta, 1984-1985, undated
Les Opérateurs de Green et Neumann, undated