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The 2019 Hans Freudenthal Award

Gert_Schubring.pngGert Schubring
2019 Hans Freudenthal Medal

The Hans Freudenthal Medal, with which ICMI honors innovative, consistent, highly influential and still on-going programs of research in mathematics education, is being awarded in 2019 to Professor Gert Schubring, a long-time member of the Institut für Didaktik der Mathematik at Bielefeld University, Germany, and an extended visiting professor at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. This award is being granted to Gert Schubring in recognition of his outstanding contribution to research on the history of mathematics education.

Gert’s research of over four decades has opened new, important avenues of research into the phenomenon of mathematics education. Trained as a mathematician, Gert has been a member of the Institut für Didaktik der Mathematik since 1973, when this interdisciplinary research institute for mathematics education was founded. In his doctoral dissertation, defended in 1977, Gert wrote on the genetic principle in approaching historical research in mathematics. Afterwards, he extended his interests, producing wide-ranging writings on the history of mathematics education within and across countries, and publishing on the history of mathematics.  One of Schubring’s earliest publications came out of the symposium, “Comparative Study of the Development of Mathematical Education as a Professional Discipline in Different Countries”, presented at the Fourth ICME conference in Berkeley in 1980. This set the stage for the mathematics education community’s reflection on itself as a discipline, and how its own social context had framed its objects and methods of study. By inviting us to place ourselves in front of a mirror, Gert also sparked interest in the history of earliest efforts in mathematics education, including the work of Felix Klein, on which Gert has recently co-edited the important book, The Legacy of Felix Klein (2019, Springer).

His seminal works have helped to realize the importance of considering the social context in the study of the history of mathematics education. If this field of research is now well acknowledged, it is in large part due to his theoretical and methodological contributions, as well as to his leadership in scientific communication.
Another, related but separate, strand of Gert’s pioneering work was the study of textbooks, which he began in his investigations on the evolution of mathematics teaching in Latin America. This is yet another area of research that he helped to recognize as worth attention. In 2017 he also chaired the International Program Committee for the Second International Conference on Mathematics Textbook Research and Development held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Schubring has also laid out the formal structures that helped in turning the study of the history of mathematics education into an academic field. He was the founding co-organiser of International Conference on the History of Mathematics Education (ICHME), a forum that since 2009 has already met six times. After leading the Study Group on the ‘History of Teaching and Learning Mathematics’ at the 10th ICME conference in 2004, Gert became the founding editor of the International Journal for the History of Mathematics Education. Gert also co-edited the Handbook on the History of Mathematics Education published in 2014, in which he contributed to four of the handbook chapters. He is co-editor of the new book series International Studies in the History of Mathematics and its Teaching, which includes the 2019 volume he edited himself, titled Interfaces Between Mathematical Practices and Mathematical Education.

An important aspect of Gert Schubring’s work was his straddling of the communities of the history of mathematics and of mathematics education. His own book in the former field, Generalization, Rigor and Intuition, published in 2005, is a major reference in the history of mathematics focused on 17th–19th–century mathematics. Additionally, several publications in mathematics education journals (such as For the Learning of Mathematics) introduced tools and concepts from the history of mathematics, such as methodologies for analyzing historical texts, that greatly enrich mathematics education research. Similarly, Gert brought ideas in mathematics education, such as the notion of “mathematics for all” back into the fold of the history of mathematics, to examine what kind of knowledge mathematics has been taken to be in different cultures and historical periods.   

For decades, Gert has been actively promoting the study of the history of the field of mathematics education, while simultaneously conducting significant historical studies of his own. No other researcher has had a greater impact on establishing the social history of mathematics education as a dynamic field of scholarly endeavor. His work has not only made us aware of the past of mathematics education but has also provided important insights into mathematics education as it stands today and sets directions for its future. It informs current teaching by showing ways in which historical mathematical texts can inspire pedagogy. It makes us aware of future possibilities and of the fact that they do not have to be merely determined by the past, but rather can be moulded by new understandings of past practices, values and ways of thinking. All these important contributions make Professor Gert Schubring an eminently deserving recipient of the Hans Freudenthal Medal for 2019.