Professor John Fauvel, of the Open University, died in Leamington Spa, UK, on May 12, 2001, at the age of 53. His passing was caused by a dysfunctional liver and kidney. He was born in Glasgow on July 21, 1947.
Internationally recognized as a distinguished scholar in the field of the history of mathematics, John had a special interest in the links of history with mathematical education. He has been involved in various aspects of the life of ICMI and made important contributions to many activities of the Commission. He was from 1992 to 1996 chair of the International Study Group on the Relations between the History and Pedagogy of Mathematics, an Affiliated Study Group of ICMI. He co-chaired with Jan Van Maanen the ICMI Study on "The Role of the History of Mathematics in the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics", whose Conference took place in 1998 and whose resulting ICMI Study Volume was launched at the time of ICME-9.
My first personal contacts with John were on the occasion of this ICMI History Study, first through e-mail in preparation of the Conference, and later during the meeting itself. I was immediately struck by his personal touch which made communication so easy and warm, not to speak of his remarkable sense of organization (with the collaboration of his co-chair) which made the participation to this collective endeavour both exciting and stimulating and helped one to perceives his or her own contribution to the Study, whatever modest it might be, as a non-trivial piece in a rich collaborative effort. It was an extremely rewarding experience to have the opportunity of working under the most gracious leadership of John.
I am grateful that four colleagues who have collaborated with John over the years have accepted that the tributes they have prepared on the sad occasion of his passing be reprinted in the ICMI Bulletin. These and other expressions of sympathy can be found in the July 2001 special issue of the HPM Newsletter (No. 47), dedicated to John Fauvel, as well as on the website http://www.dcs.warwick.ac.uk/bshm/Fauvel.html
Bernard R. Hodgson
Secretary of ICMI
John Fauvel - Chronicler of the history of mathematics
(This is a slightly expanded version of an obituary appearing in The Guardian, Friday June 22, 2001. See www.guardian.co.uk. © The Author.)
John Fauvel, who has died at the age of 53, was one of the Open University's great teachers. By his talent, intelligence, and selfless modesty, he made a major contribution to the revival of interest and development of resources in the history of mathematics, not just in the United Kingdom but internationally.
He was a person of great sensitivity, with a rare ability to know how students would respond, so that in his hands teaching at a distance became much more of a conversation. This gift was particularly well displayed in the current course on the history of mathematics, which has become the benchmark across the country. John's great innovation in that course was to break with a long tradition of loading students up with well-attested facts and to engage them directly in the business of becoming an historian. Right from the start students are asked to reflect on what they are doing as fledgling historians, and while doing so they are helped to read a variety of sources in the same sensitive way that John had. Research historians regularly urge a fresh reading of texts that is alert to what they actually say, and not to what they are popularly supposed to say. That was always John's way, and he successfully pioneered the high-level teaching of the history of mathematics in that spirit.
John also edited five books which are among the most instructive and enjoyable in the subject (one even made it to the ill-fated Dome). They display his sensitivity to texts, which he could open up and make speak again, as well as to pictures, for which he had a fine eye. He combined a gentleness of spirit with a forthright defence in matters of principle, most recently seen in his hard-hitting, analytic and beautifully argued writings castigating the action of Keele University for the way they disposed of the Turner collection of rare mathematical texts. Indeed, one of the most remarkable aspects of John was that there was no gap between what he was and how he thought and taught. He was a remarkably whole person, and very much his own person, capable of creating so much that was original because it was in him and of him.
His work for the British Society for the History of Mathematics, of which he was President from 1991 to 1994, is most visible in their wide-ranging, erudite, and attractive Newsletter, which has created a remarkable sense, not only of community but of family for the scattered members of that international group. He brought many young students into the Society, and helped it to be active in the campaign to prevent the destruction of the grave of the 19th Century Jewish mathematician J. J. Sylvester, which might otherwise have been turned into a north London car-park.
John enjoyed many signs of growing recognition in the last decade. He was chair of the International Study Group on the Relations between History and Pedagogy of Mathematics, which is affiliated to the International Commission on Mathematical Instruction (ICMI), from 1992 to 1996 and last year co-chaired an important ICMI Study. In 1998 he was the New Zealand Mathematical Society's Visiting Lecturer for 1998; and he was regularly invited to speak at major conferences in the United States.
John went to school at Trinity College, Glenalmond, Scotland. He gained a BA in Mathematics from Essex University in 1970 and an MSc and an MPhil from Warwick University in 1973 and 1977. He started working for the Open University in 1974, and became a lecturer there in 1979, and in due course a Senior Lecturer.
Alongside his commitment to mathematics and teaching John had wide learning in many disciplines and a lively interest in the worlds of the arts, thought, ideas and public life. As an openly gay man he lived his life positively and joyously, with great good humour and a fine sense of style. He expected and received the same generous tolerance of his lifestyle which he extended to all who lived differently. His society was an inclusive church which loved the diversity of man- and womankind. He was outraged by hypocrisy and campaigned energetically against laws, persons, and practices responsible for injustice, bringing to bear the same sharp intelligence that characterised his academic work.
John died in the house of one of his closest friends on a glorious summer day that had become a true celebration of his too short life. He was loved, befriended, respected, and admired by people all over the world. He died quickly of a dysfunctional liver and kidney, arising from a condition he had had for the last 10 years, and although he had recently been put on the list for a liver transplant, his own deteriorated more quickly than anticipated, making the operation impossible.
He leaves cousins Sandy and Ian Blair, beloved godchildren Sophie Blair and Henry Britton, and a multitude of dear friends from every walk of life. In the words of the Kandor and Ebb song, he felt that 'life is a cabaret, old chum, come to the cabaret'.
Department of Pure Mathematics
Open University, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA UK
Tribute spoken at John Fauvel's funeral, 23rd May 2001, on a beautiful sunny day at Oakley Wood (Warwickshire)
Jan van Maanen
[Sometimes John would start an address like this. I think that this beginning expressed that he liked the audience and that he wanted to say some important things to it.]
When remembering and celebrating the life of our dear, dear John Fauvel, we are in deep grief and mourning, and in great joy at the same moment. Although it is difficult for me I want - here with you - to stress the joy. The joy
* that we have known John,
* that we have worked with John,
* that we have laughed with John,
* that John came to visit us, wherever we were on the globe,
* that John inspired us, loved us,
* that he cooked for us, and
* that he has written such bright and beautiful history for the world and for us.
When I say "we" I am happy that it is truly "we", that I speak for many colleagues and friends of John's, all over the world, who have expressed to me their feelings and memories about John. In alphabetic order of the countries these messages came from Argentina from Vicky, Australia from Gail, Belgium from Maggy, Brazil from Sergio and Ubiratan, Canada from Anna and Glen, Denmark from Mogens, France from Annie and Jean-Luc, Germany from Niels, Greece from Costas, Hong Kong from Fung-Kit and Man-Keung, Israel from Abraham, Italy from Fulvia, who is present here as the Chair of the HPM study group, and from Guido, Mariolina and Lucia, Japan from Ryosuke and Masami, the Netherlands from Barbara, Danny, Ed, Iris, Klaske, Marjolein and Matteke, New Zealand from Coralie and Geoff, Norway from Maria Luiza and Otto, Poland from Ewa, Portugal from Eduardo, Spain from Miguel, Switzerland from Daniel, the United Kingdom from Antonio, Chris, Costel, David, David, Helen, Ivor, Jackie, June, Lesley, Neil, Peter, Peter and Steve, the United States of America from Bob, Florrie, Karen D and Victor, Taiwan from Wann-Sheng.
John was a global person. He travelled and lectured around the world, and he is remembered around the world. I read greetings from New Zealand, from Coralie Daniel and Geoff Layton. John and Alfreda lived in the same house with Geoff when John and Geoff were students.
"Geoff wanted us to be at his house at Doctor's Point (partly because of its ellipsoid design and shape). We will be there from 8 p.m. (our time - 7 a.m. GMT) and at least some of us will wait till after midnight. We would like you to mention our gathering here, when you speak; it seems fitting seeing that John was so keen to understand things in global ways, both as a scholar and as a traveller." [Coralie Daniel, 16 May]
John was our colleague and coach, working for the benefit of people, for young colleagues, for learners with special needs. History of mathematics for him was a means to empower people. Several colleagues wrote to me about the great support John has always been for them. I read some lines from Man-Keung Siu in Hong Kong.
"I got acquainted with John in the summer of 1988 at Kristiansand, the same occasion when I got to know most of you in the HPM group. We all become good friends ever since. Like all others, John had been very kind and helpful to me, who for the first time joined in this HPM group. It confirms my belief that a regard for the history of mathematics can generate in one a warm and humane attitude which will show up not just in the intellectual commitment in the discipline but also in other aspects. Throughout these 13 years that I know him, he had always been so supportive in what I do and we can talk on almost anything. I will miss him very very much, along with many others." [Man-Keung Siu, 15 May]
John was always helpful with gentle criticism, with a gentle push, with references to sources, always sending xeroxes of material that he thought was interesting for you, always disclosing the publications of others through his abstracts. John gave chances to colleagues at the start of their careers, by inviting them for lectures and by bringing them together. I strongly felt this myself, when in 1990 John gently pushed and persuaded me to give a lecture and a workshop at the first British Society for the History of Mathematics (BSHM) History in Mathematics Education (= HIMED) Conference in Leicester. "Of course you can do this," he said. And when I was in doubt about my ability to speak the language well enough, he said: "And what are we speaking now?" "English," was my reply. "Precisely," he reacted, "you can also speak English in a lecture room."
John was a source of culture, of ideas and concepts, of knowledge and of good questions. I read a line from Niels Jahnke from Germany:
"I met him at some conferences and can only agree to what you say about his unselfish way of helping others. Besides, I admired him for being one of the most cultivated persons I have ever met." [Niels Jahnke, 15 May]
John's rich experience in many fields impressed all of us. Karen D wrote how John, in a lecture, displayed a knowledge of American history that was amazing even for the Americans themselves. Always there were unexpected things. I think of John, standing in our garden in Groningen, telling apart the four classical roses that we have, each by its own name. "Oh gosh, you have a Lady Fletcher", he said (the Lady being one of the roses; to be honest, I have forgotten the precise name, it could have been another Lady so-and-so). It was wonderful to work with John, as I experienced again when we edited the ICMI Study about "History in Mathematics Education". Many ideas, phrasings, pictures, and main lines came from John.
John was a wonderful friend, always interested in the other person. It was a delight to have supper at his place, although I never understood how anything edible could come out of his kitchen. I shall end with one story of my own, and a feeling which is shared by almost everyone who wrote to me during these last few days. The story is about John's glasses. He was proud of the special design of his glasses, and I was too, since most of them came from Groningen, where I live. The first time John visited me, we had arranged that I would collect him from the railway station. At the time of the rendez-vous, no John came out of the train. I decided to wait a bit longer: maybe there would be a message, maybe he would be in the next train. And then I heard "Oh, hello Jan, is that you?". A shortsighted John had found me. What had happened: John had found out that Groningen had a reputed sauna, so he had arrived several trains earlier and had gone to the sauna first. But there he had managed to stand on his glasses and had broken them. So, the first thing we did together in Groningen was buy new glasses for John. He was so happy with them, since it was the type of design - he said - he had never seen in the UK.
The feeling I want to end with is the feeling of resonance. Sometimes it happens that someone says something that starts to resound within you. It was my question at the end of John's lecture, 14 April 1987 in Amsterdam, about "British Mathematics before Newton", which tremendously resounded within John, that started our contact. This feeling is also expressed beautifully by Victor Katz when he writes about John:
"And I will never forget when we were on the same program at an AMS meeting a few years ago. He was right before me on the program and was talking about Sylvester's life in Baltimore. He concluded by reading a very flowery introduction that Sylvester had used in a speech - and he changed it in such a way that he in fact was introducing me. I was very touched by it all - noone had ever introduced me in quite that way before." [Victor Katz, 15 May]
"I was very touched by it all": that is precisely how John was. And finally some words from our young scholar Masami Isoda from Japan. John and I were very fond of his work and of him as a person. Masami wrote:
"This year, I am reading The History of Mathematics and History in Mathematics Education with my students. I want to tell his warm hart to them and others." [Masami Isoda, 14 May]
John's spirit will continue to live through his writings and through us.
Thank you, dear friend, good man.
Jan van Maanen, Former Chair of HPM (1996-2000)
Department of Mathematics, University of Groningen
P.O. Box 800, NL-9700 AV Groningen, Netherlands
In Memory of John Fauvel
SIU Man Keung
It is not frequently the case - but you will definitely have to count it a blessing if that ever happens - when you first get acquainted with somebody you immediately feel really at ease with the person and can carry on a conversation which goes far beyond polite exchange of amenities and pleasantries. I had that kind of experience when I first met John Fauvel in the summer of 1988. With his untimely passing in the evening of 12 May 2001 this blessing came to a sudden end.
In August of 1988 a workshop was initiated and organized by Otto Bekken at Kristiansand in Norway to "present, discuss and develop concrete ideas from the history of mathematics which can be used to motivate, to illustrate and to enhance the understanding of some key concepts and methods from the mathematics curriculum". The heterogeneous group of 24 invited participants from different parts of the world with different cultural or academic background - mathematicians, mathematics educators, historians of mathematics - turned out to work surprisingly well, each complementing the others and all forming a most congenial and dedicated group. They learned from each other, argued with each other, discussed among each other, but all the time in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, which was helped by the scenic and serene environment of Gimlekollen Mediasenter, a boarding school by the side of woods and lake. Besides the regular programme of lectures/discussion every morning and afternoon, exchange of ideas went on during coffee breaks, at lunch/dinner tables, well into the night (if one can call it the night when it is still so bright at 22:00 hour up there in Scandinavia!), and even on the meandering trail through the woods to a refreshing dip in the cool lake in the early morning. I was at the time a newcomer to this group, many of whom were already by then very active in the HPM (International Study Group on the Relations Between the History and Pedagogy of Mathematics). Almost immediately I felt that I was being received warmly into the family. It confirms my belief that a regard for history of mathematics can generate in a person a warm, gentle and humane attitude that will show up not just in the intellectual commitment in the discipline but also in other aspects of life. Among this group of good friends whom I made in the summer of 1988, John stood out as a tall, lean and young chap. For the ensuing twelve years we met quite frequently in conferences. He came to Hong Kong twice in this period, once in 1995 in connection with the making of a film series for the Open University and once in 1998 on his way out to New Zealand as the New Zealand Mathematical Society's Visiting Lecturer. In between such pleasant rendezvous we kept up our correspondence. John had always been so kind and supportive to me, and indeed he contributed much to my professional growth, through his books and papers, through his judicious advice and sometimes just some encouraging words at the right moment. In the summer of 1996 we expected to meet again in Sevilla in Spain and in Braga in Portugal, but the deteriorating health of my father resulted in my last minute cancellation of the trip. John, as thoughtful as usual, sent me a postcard from Sevilla with the signatures of many friends who were attending the conference and conveyed greetings from afar. That is typical of John, always having his friends in mind. A week later I received another postcard from John in Braga telling me how well Chun-Ip Fung, a former student of mine, stood in for me in the talk I was supposed to give. Again, that is typical of John, always ready to give credit and encouragement to newcomers. Last summer we expected to see each other again at Makuhari in Japan and later in Taipei in China. A few days before leaving for Japan I received an email from John saying that he had to miss the conference in Japan because he would be going into the hospital to have an operation on the bile duct. Thinking back, I am once more struck by his thoughtfulness towards friends. I was too careless at the time not to be aware of the seriousness of his illness, which he tried to hide from his friends in order not to cause them anxiety. If this was his intention, he did it well when he appeared in Taipei so cheerfully at the HPM Conference. Participants will certainly remember the jocular performance our good friend John put up at the Kara-oke! Looking back with sadness, I am at least glad that John left me with this last impression of him, a good friend in high spirits. I will treasure it.
John, who had taught at the Open University in UK since 1974, was a renowned historian of mathematics, particularly in British mathematical development from the sixteenth century onward. He was the President of the British Society for the History of Mathematics from 1991 to 1994 and had edited its Newsletter since 1995. Besides working as a historian of mathematics, John was also a strong and effective proponent of the relation between history of mathematics and mathematics education. As the Chair of HPM from 1992 to 1996 he promoted activities in the form of international conferences and in co-chairing (with Jan van Maanen) the 10th ICMI Study on the Role of the History of Mathematics in the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics. Were it not for the encouragement coming from John and Jan I might not have the great fortune to work closely with them in that project. Participants at that ICMI Study Conference held in Luminy in April 1998 will no doubt cherish the memorable evening of the conference dinner in which the "three John's" (John Fauvel and Jan van Maanen, the co-chairs, and Jean-Luc Dorier, the local organizer) were heartily congratulated and acclaimed for their admirable dedication and professionalism bestowed on the project. This is just one example of a wonderful collaboration in which John took part. All those who have the good fortune to be acquainted with John and who have worked with him together will, like me, miss him very very much. It is indeed a sad loss for all of us, but we also know that John's memory and contribution will continue to be felt through the many books and papers he had published, and his influence will be carried on through those who have known this wonderful man.
SIU Man Keung
Department of Mathematics, University of Hong Kong
Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong SAR, China
Remembering John Grant Fauvel (Glasgow 1947 - Leamington Spa 2001)
In a sunny day of May we celebrated the funeral of John Fauvel. The ceremony took place in Leamington Spa (near Warwick University, UK). There were readings, speeches remembering John's aspects of life (private, academic, scientific), songs, music, flowers of John's garden. Afterwards we went to the Saint Patrick Irish Club on the border of the river to continue our day remembering John. One of the walls of the room was covered with John's photos taken in various meetings and visits to colleagues.
Although we tried to be cheerful as John had liked to see us, I perceived in the atmosphere a great sadness. With John has disappeared an important person who was able to make our community as a big family (this is what I feel), of which I'm glad to be a member. He also contributed to create an identity for the group of persons working in the field of history and pedagogy of mathematics.
In the same time in New Zealand a group of friends celebrated John. This gives an idea of how much he was known and loved all over the world. Also a lot of messages arrived to the special email address prepared in Warwick University. Myself, as present president of the group HPM, received a lot of messages. Some of them are in the special issue of HPM newsletter dedicated to John. Thanks to all of you.
I met John Fauvel the first time at the HIMED (History In Mathematics Education) Conference in Leicester (UK) in spring 1990. In this occasion he was launching in the ambit of the British Society for the History of Mathematics (BSHM) the tradition of this kind of conferences, in which historians of mathematics, mathematics educators, and teachers meet together to discuss how to cope with the teaching/learning problems using history of mathematics. The place of the conference was extremely evocative and stimulating: in Leicester there is the Mathematical Association Library with all the memories of this glorious association. The meeting was very successful and the room of the old building resulted not sufficient to contain all the participants. Being almost a beginner in the field and coming from the mathematical environment I was very surprise in meeting such a relaxed atmosphere in which there were scientific talks, workshops, but also movies and drama. Firs first time I experienced the advantages and the pleasure of using different means in communication. There is a record of this conference in the journal For the learning of mathematics (number 2, volume 11, 1991). The opening paper ("Using history in mathematics education", 2-6) of this issue of the journal is a kind of manifesto of Fauvel's ideas about the use of history in mathematics teaching. This paper was for me (just starting in the field) a reference point in my successive works. What I liked particularly in this conference was the possibility to attend workshops and talks carried out by teachers on their actual experiments with history in classroom. This gave me the first inspiration to study the problem of the use of history in mathematics teaching through an "approach through examples", which consists in starting from the analysis of what is really happening in classroom in order to interpret the needs of the teachers and to put these needs in relation with the possibilities offered by history.
The HIMED conferences became a tradition. Afterwards a one-day meeting was held annually, mainly addressed to a national audience, and each two years the meeting lasts more days and gathered a more international audience. There has been a core of foreign participants to the international meeting: Évelyne Barbin and many delegates of the IREMs (Maryvonne Hallez, Anne Michel-Pajus,...) from France, Jan van Maanen, Marjoleen Kool,... from The Netherlands, Torkil Heiede from Denmark, myself from Italy. Occasionally participants from Norway, Portugal, Sweden joined the meeting. There have also been participants from the other continents; I remember Ubiratan d'Ambrosio from Brazil, Robert Mitchell, Fred Rickey and Frank Swetz from USA, Luis Moreno and Guillermina Waldegg from Mexico. With these meetings the community of researchers in the field of history and pedagogy of mathematics acquired a specific identity. Even more, due to the particular way John Fauvel was dealing with colleagues, the members of this community felt as belonging to a family, which became the European core of the International Study Group on the Relations between History and Pedagogy of Mathematics.
John Fauvel was chair of HPM (from 1992 to 1996), which is affiliated to the International Commission on Mathematical Instruction (ICMI) and in 1998 co-chaired the ICMI Study held in Luminy (Marseille, France) on "The role of the history of mathematics in the teaching and learning of mathematics" (see ICMI Bulletin 42, June 1997). The result of this big enterprise is a recent volume (J. Fauvel, & J. Van Maanen (editors), History in mathematics education: the ICMI Study, Kluwer, Dordrecht-Boston-London, 2000). He contributed to the activities of the group HPM also as member of the scientific committee European summer University "History and epistemology in mathematics education" held in Montpellier (1993, France), in Braga (1996, Portugal), Louvain-la-Neuve/Leuven (1999, Belgium).
From 1991 to 1994 John Fauvel was president of BSHM (British Society for the History of Mathematics). His involvement in this Society developed in different directions. He organised or co-organized 29 conferences for the BSHM, in particular the above mentioned HIMED and the September conferences on themes of the history of mathematics held alternatively in Cambridge and Oxford. I have participated to some of them and again I found the atmosphere very friendly, culturally stimulating, and collaborative. Among the themes touched by these conferences I would like to mention that of 1992 ("European mathematics 1848-1939") and that of 1994 ("Networks of communication in mathematics in the 19th and early 20th century"), which witnesses the idea underlying Fauvel's work that mathematics is part of the social life. As an important activity in the BSHM I like to quote the regular organisation of days devoted to the presentation of research in progress carried out by young scholars in the history of mathematics.
One of the main task he afforded in his period of presidency of BSHM was editing the newsletter of the Society (since 1995). It is widely recognised that this it is the best Newsletter for any organisation I know. To read it is a pleasure for the eyes and for the mind. The BSHM newsletter is a clear expression of the way of working of John Fauvel: attention for the cultural and informative side, but also great attention to details, the visual/aesthetic side. He was an effective communicator and I learnt from him the importance of using different means (words, pictures, movies, ancient drawings) to transmit ideas and emotions. Through the pages of the BSHM newsletter he fought to preserve the grave of J. J. Sylvester from destruction and blamed the sale of the Turner collection by the Keele University.
John Fauvel was also on the editorial board of a number of journals, including For the learning of mathematics, Science and education, Themes in education, Paradigm, Radical philosophy. He has been in the Executive Committee of the International Commission on the History of Mathematics.
As the present chair of the HPM Study Group I have received a lot of messages all over the world, expressing the sadness for having lost both a friend and a person so present in promoting history of mathematics and mathematics itself in school and society. I like to remember an aspect of his personality that is evidenced by the structure of the works during the meeting of ICMI Study in Luminy and the related book: the idea of democracy in culture. During the ICMI meeting all the participants had the opportunity to express their ideas that are recorded in the book. So the book contains a plurality of voices and is a unique fresco of opinions and experiences.
He was a man with many interests (social, cultural, and affective). He loved music. He edited cookery books; at the end of conferences he often asked my opinion about the food served (as Italian it is assumed that I am competent in this field). He liked gardening. He liked to take photographs of us during the conferences. These photos appeared in reports and proceedings of meetings signifying that behind ideas and work there are persons. He has been for me (as for many other researchers in history or education) an important cultural reference, a source of advises and encouragement. I learnt from him a lot of things. It has been a pleasure to have met him.
Fulvia Furinghetti, Chairperson of HPM (2000-2004)
Dipartimento di Matematica, Università di Genova
via Dodecaneso 35
16146 Genova, Italy