Fonds F0747 - Alexander Wittenberg fonds

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Alexander Wittenberg fonds

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  • Textual record
  • Sound recording

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2.4 m of textual records
15 audio reels

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Name of creator


Biographical history

Alexander Israel Wittenberg (10 February 1926 - 19 December 1965) was a teacher, researcher and Professor of mathematics and mathematical education.
Wittenberg was born in Berlin in 1926 to a family of Russian Jewish immigrants. The family escaped Germany immediately after the 1933 Nazi rise to power and found refuge in neighbouring France. In 1942 the Wittenberg family was forced to flee once again, this time to Switzerland. Although uprooted, Wittenberg continued pursuing his education and in 1957 completed his doctorate at the renowned Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich) under the guidance of mathematicians Ferdinand Gonseth and Paul Bernays. During the post-war years Wittenberg taught math at several Swiss high schools, developed an interest in mathematical education and started his own family after marrying Marlyse Wittenberg, nee Marx.
In 1956 Wittenberg accepted the role of associate professor at the University of Laval in Quebec and relocated to Canada together with his young family. In 1963 he arrived at Toronto after being offered to join the newly established York University as a professor in the mathematics department. Proficient in German, French and English, he published his research in all three languages – altogether authoring five books and more than thirty articles, reviews and public addresses. As well, Wittenberg was an active participator in various contemporary debates regarding educational policies in North America and Europe – many times translating and informing different audiences about developments taking place in other countries. He was also actively engaged in non-academic discussions about high school and post-secondary education and advocated the crucial importance of advancing mathematical and scientific knowledge. In 1965 he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and died that same year at the age of 39.

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Scope and content

Fonds consists of records created and maintained by Alexander Israel Wittenberg, pertaining to his career as a mathematician, university professor and researcher of mathematical education, mathematical philosophy and general educational policies. The fonds includes Wittenberg’s correspondence with leading scientists, mathematicians and education specialists from across Europe and North America, reflecting his involvement with research pertaining to these issues, as well as to various other initiatives, debates and policy discussions. Other series in the fonds contain records relating to the academic courses that Wittenberg developed and taught and his involvement with the governance of York University during his tenure as a faculty member and which attest to his vision regarding the University’s future pedagogical direction; records from his time as a student in Zurich; most of his scholarly output and public engagements since the late 1940s and until his death in 1965; and some sound recordings containing radio broadcasts made by Wittenberg. The fonds also contains several personal records of both Wittenberg and his close family members, as well as photographs and newspaper clippings.

Upon his death, Wittenberg left behind him several unfinished projects. Amongst these are two manuscripts, the first, titled “Education: the unfulfilled promise,” is based on a series of lectures that he broadcasted on CBC radio during March and April 1965. The second manuscript, “Number – a case study in knowledge,” is based on an interdisciplinary mathematical-philosophical course that Wittenberg delivered to first- and second-year students at York University. Also included in the collection are initial notes and drafts relating to two other projects that Wittenberg was planning: a biography of Albert Einstein whom he perceived as a symbol for the ability to successfully combine scientific excellence with strong and unbending moral values, and a university-level textbook on vector algebra.

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Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition

Donated by Marlyse Wittenberg in 2019 and 2022.


Arrangement follows original order as found in the Wittenberg home where the fonds was kept in a file cabinet until August 2019.

Language of material

  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Yiddish

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No restrictions on access.

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11/11/2019 A. Lavie: (Creation)

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