Archive for the ‘Obituary’ Category

Turkey mourns the death of Mustafa Alpaslan and his wife Zişan Güner Alpaslan (b.1986), two young academicians who tragically passed away in a traffic collision on 31 July 2015. Both of them were promising members of the Faculty of Education, Middle East Technical University (METU, Ankara). Mustafa Alpaslan became an active member of the Department of Elementary Education following his nomination as “Graduate Research and Teaching Assistant” in January 2010. Soon he started a MS thesis on the use of history of mathematics in elementary mathematics education. He also started to present, together with his colleagues, papers at the international congresses on Mathematics Education, especially at ICMEs and CERMEs. These were mostly based on topics he researched for his MS and PhD theses. Mustafa was also enthusiastic in establishing and keeping international contacts: He was the distributor of the History and Pedagogy of Mathematics (HPM) Newsletter for Turkey, since November 2012. In CERME-9 (Prague, 2015), he was elected Board Member of the European Society for Research in Mathematics Education (ERME). His research activities enabled him to receive scholarships and grants both from Turkish and international institutions (TUBITAK, ERME).

I came to know Mustafa when he undertook his doctoral thesis in 2011. Professors Gert Schubring (Bielefeld University, Germany), and Ali Sinan Sertöz (Bilkent University, Turkey) had advised him to contact the Department of the History of Science, Istanbul University, because his research was related to the history of mathematics; more precisely to the use of history of mathematics in mathematics education. In his very kind and modest but inquiring e-mail dated 20 September 2011, he revealed his interest in the works of medieval Islamic and Ottoman mathematicians and his wish to integrate them into mathematics education. Mustafa’s first visit to the Department of the History of Science, Istanbul, in early 2012 soon launched a fruitful collaboration. He established good contacts with the team of young researchers of the department and took two courses from the doctoral program in HS, namely “Science Journals in Turkey” and “Scientific Literature in Turkey”. The former course introduced to him the first Turkish popular journal Mebahis-i ilmiyye (Scientific themes) published in 1867 by the Turkish mathematician Vidinli Tevfik Pasha. The journal which included articles on both medieval Islamic and 19th century European mathematics immediately attracted his interest. An analysis of the journal published by F. Günergun in 2007,encouraged him to find a way of using its articles in mathematics education. The joint paper by Alpaslan, Schubring and Günergun would be the last paper he presented in an international conference (CERME-9, Prague, 2015). Those who received e-mails from Mustafa Alpaslan would surely remember the excerpts from Henri Poincaré and Niels Henrik Abel’s works, inserted at the bottom of his messages. Those reflected the importance of history of both science and mathematics in education and for the progress in sciences.

Mustafa and Zişan got married in 2013 and were looking forward to the birth of their son in a few months.


When I met them in December 2014 in Ankara, they were both radiating ideas of future projects and hoping to get funds to do research in the United States. These funds were granted shortly before the tragic accident. Mustafa was a quiet and optimistic person. He was genuinely courteous towards his colleagues and ready to provide assistance. I was often surprised to witness the serene expression of this young person, who considered death as a natural phenomenon. He had once said, “Such is life, one leaves when time is called.” His “time” came too early, too untimely. As a promising young scholar he had conveyed high expectations to all who knew him for his contributions to mathematics education and the history of mathematics. Mustafa will be sadly missed by his friends, colleagues, and students. 

Feza Günergun,

Department of the History of Science,

Istanbul University

Words for Mustafa

I was very sad to learn about the accident with Mustafa and Zisan. Indeed, a big loss.

– Ubi D’Ambrosio (Brazil)


This was a very, very sad e-mail, and it is difficult to imagine never talk to Mustafa again at CERME, HPM and other meetings.

– Tinne Hoff Kjeldsen (Denmark)


The only thing I can say is that at least the whole family is together, wherever that might be…

I met them for the first time in Prague and both were so welcoming to me, sweet and so friendly.

A huge loss for our community.

My condolences for the rest of the family.

– Caroline Kuhn (England)


Very sad news indeed to all who knew them.

– Peter Ransom (England)


This is very sad news and indeed a huge loss for the mathematics education community.

As some of you know, Mustafa had been elected as representative of the young researchers in the ERME Board during the last ERME general meeting in February, and was enthusiastic to bring a deep contribution to the ERME community.

Mustafa and Zisan were wonderful people.

Our thoughts are with their families and friends.

– Viviane Durand-Guerrier (France)


Regina Moeller and I were deeply saddened to hear about the deaths of Mustafa and Zisan. We met Mustafa for the first time at the CERME conference 2013 in Antalya and recently in Prague. We have gotten to know him as a dedicated researcher and a very engaging and friendly man. This is a painful loss. We will honour his memory.

– Peter Collignon and Regina Moeller (Germany)


This is horrible news.

I met Mustafa for the first time at the HPM conference in Korea in 2012. Uffe Jankvist, Victor Katz, Stuart Rowlands and I were editing a special issue on history of mathematics for Science and Education, and, at the conference, we were already looking for possible contributors. Uffe had heard about Mustafa and told me about him. Mustafa and I had a long conversation, and I was impressed. In one of the emails later, when we deliberated on which papers would be accepted, I had this to say:

[Another paper] I am inclined to support is Mustafa’s–unless there is a call for rejection. … Mustafa is young, enthusiastic (as Uffe and I could see when we met him in Korea last year), and relatively unknown: he is the sort of researcher we said, at one point, we wanted to support. So, I would like to give him as much a chance as we can.

His paper was accepted unanimously, and we were not sorry.

We met again in Copenhagen just last year, where Mustafa gave a very interesting workshop. He had grown as a historian and educator, and I was looking forward to following his career – I had no doubt it would be very successful.

He and I were also in touch all the time via Facebook. I came to think of him not only as a colleague but as a friend–a true friend, not just a FB “friend.”  I could sense his good heart and humanity in all his postings and our communications and came to like him immensely. I never met Zisan, but the two of them seemed so happy together, and I was happy for them. I was very much looking forward to seeing Mustafa again and finally meeting Zisan in Hamburg next summer. That will not be.

– Michael Fried (Israel)


This is terrible news. I first met Mustafa at my (and his) first CERME in Rzeszow, Poland. Zişan was also there. I did not get to Antalya, but met him in Seoul, Copenhagen and, most recently, in Prague. His historical paper on mathematics in early journals of the Ottoman Empire (c. 1870) was particularly nice and well researched, complementing his core research interests in the use of history in the formation of mathematics teachers in Turkey. I was looking forward to welcoming him in Dublin, and hoped that Zişan would be with us too. You are right; their deaths are a huge loss to the ERME community and to HPM, in particular.

It is sad news for us all and especially for their families and those dear to them.

– Maurice O’Reilly (Ireland)


At every conference we shake hands with lots of people, and it may take a while to sort out whom you will have stimulating and long-term conversations with. Mustafa was different – from the very first time I met him (in Daejon), we had good discussions, and of course he struck me as a very friendly and interesting colleague. I was happy to meet him again in Copenhagen, where it felt like meeting an old-time colleague. I imagined that we would meet again for these biannual meetings for decades and that we would have many opportunities for collaborations.

That will not be. His absence from future meetings of the HPM group will be painful to us all. I can’t imagine the pain of his and Zisan’s families and close ones.

– Bjørn Smestad (Norway)


I am very shocked about this news (that I learned about the day after the accident).

I totally agree with Michael [Fried]’s thoughts and his evaluation for Mustafa, both as a personality and as a new enthusiastic scholar. I have met him several times, we were keeping in contact and I met him for the last time, last year in Copenhagen where I attended his very interesting workshop. What was very impressive – among so many other qualities Mustafa had – was his modesty and eagerness to learn.

I cannot feel anything else except that this is a big loss at levels.

– Costas Tzanakis (Greece)


I have academic and personal memories about Mustafa Alpaslan. I first met him when reading his papers. I appreciated his deep preparation in our field of research, his ideas and his commitment in linking mathematics education and history of mathematics. Afterwards I met him personally in conferences and again I have appreciated his presence in our community. As a young researcher he was a promise for the future of the HPM Study Group.

Mustafa was also a nice and very friendly person. When he sent me the photos of his marriage to Zisan I was very touched by this evidence of friendship. The photos made me happy since I felt that their love project was a real project for life. Unfortunately their life was too short and we’ll miss them.

As my Roman ancestors used to say for the loved friends who passed away “Sit tibi terra levis” (be the soil light to you).

– Fulvia Furinghetti (Italy)


It is very sad news indeed. They were such a nice, lively couple, enjoying life. I met Mustafa and his wife for the first time in Rzeszow, then Antalya and Prague. He was very much involved, enthusiastic and thorough in his research. A bright light. I feel very sorry for both their parents and other family.

– Jenneke Krüger (the Netherlands)


Life is unfair and nonsense.

I met Mustafa last February in Prague, I will always remember the Turkish Delights he brought to the working group and how this gesture showed the kind of person he was.

Rest in peace.

– Antonio Oller (Spain)


I first met Mustafa Alpaslan at the CERME conference in Antalya, Turkey, where all of the participants of the Working Group on History in Mathematics Education had a very good time thanks to the friendly atmosphere created by Uffe. Mustafa was there and from the very first time he spoke I was attracted to the passion he showed for his work, and for sharing it with the other members of the group. And, I liked the way he opened his eyes wide to listen to anyone, as if to absorb everything he heard. It was a pleasure for me to meet him anew at ESU in Copenhagen. I’ll miss him.

– Luis Puig (Spain)


I am sorry to hear of this loss!

– Bob Stein (USA)


…This is terrible news.  Though I never met Mustafa, we (the editors of the special issue [of Science & Education]) all agreed that he had great potential as a researcher.  I was hoping to be able to meet him next summer.  It is a terrible loss not only to his family but also to our community.

– Victor Katz (USA)


My favorite memory of Mustafa and Zisan was spending time with them at CERME-8 in Antalya, Turkey.  We met several times in the evening to discuss their academic plans, and Mustafa asked me to help him with some of his work in English, and I was happy to do so.  We shared many cups of tea and juice, and talked until late in the evening while in Antalya.  During the conference’s Gala dinner, Mustafa and Zisan saved a table for many of us so that we could enjoy the lovely meal, wine, and entertainment together.  It was a memorable evening, and I remember commenting on how beautiful they looked together and how much they clearly loved each other. Wherever Mustafa and Zisan went, whomever they spent time with – they brought such joy, they made such a positive impression, and they were so respectful and appreciative of all that they had. Mustafa had built such a reputation for himself – even before completing his Ph.D. – and so many knew he was destined for much success, and they respected his trustworthiness, his enthusiasm, and his intellect. Losing them to such a tragic accident will be felt by many for a very long time.

– Kathy Clark (USA)


 HPM sadly notes the passing of…

 Ivor Grattan-Guinness

(1941 – 2014)

 Jim Kiernan

(1949 – 2014)


 Dear colleagues,

As you may know, two scholars well known of our HPM community passed away recently.

Ivor Grattan-Guinness passed away on December 12 2014. Ivor was awarded the Kenneth O. May Medal for services to the History of Mathematics by the International Commission for the History of Mathematics (ICHM) on 31 July 2009, at Budapest, on the occasion of the 23rd International Congress for the History of Science. In 2010, he was elected an Honorary Member of the Bertrand Russell Society.

Jim Kiernan, of Brooklyn College, passed away on December 14, 2014, on his 65th birthday, after a long illness. He was often encountered at meetings such as HPM, JMM, MathFest, ESU, CSHPM, and ICME; served on the advisory board for Convergence ( during its early years; and participated in the construction and testing of teaching modules that resulted from the Institute on the History of Mathematics and its use in Teaching.

The work of these scholars will certainly continue to inspire us in our own work.

Luis Radford

Université Laurentienne, Canada


HPM sadly notes the passing of…


Jacqueline Stedall

(1950 – 2014)



Paulus Gerdes

(1952 – 2014)


Ubiratan D’Ambrosio

(Translation: Sofia Gonçalves, Laurentian University, Canada)

Paulus Gerdes and Ubiratan D’Ambrosio

The world was saddened by the death of Paulus Pierre Joseph Gerdes, on November 11th, the day he would have reached 62 years of life. In a broad sense the world is deprived of a great educator, of an interesting and rigorous thinker and researcher, and a great friend for those who had the opportunity to meet him and be with him. Our condolences to the family and to his disciples, colleagues and friends.

My relationship with Paulus was very special. I met Paulus, in the mid-70s, a young man of just over 20 years. He was one of the first adherents to the ethnomathematics movement, which was being initiated; he became a leader in the area.

His life trajectory was very special. He was born in the Netherlands, in a traditional family. His father was the equivalent to a minister of state for religious cults. Paulus studied at the University of Nijmegen, where he received a Bachelor’s Degree (with honors) in Mathematics and Physics in 1972. He had a humanitarian mission experience in Vietnam, returned to Nijmegen, did a Baccalaureate in Cultural Anthropology in 1974 and in 1975 finished a Master in Mathematics. Still in the Netherlands, he became a professor in the “Centro do Terceiro Mundo”, with links with the liberation movements and the anti-apartheid in Southern Africa. By the end of 1976 he went to Mozambique, becoming a Mozambican citizen and creating a family. Since his arrival, he was a professor at the University Eduardo Mondlane until 1989, when he transferred to the Pedagogical University, remaining there until the end of his life.

In 1986, he completed a Doctorate at the University of Dresden, Germany, with a thesis on O Despertar do Pensamento Geométrico and in 1996 he returned for a second Doctorate with a thesis on Geometria Sona: Reflexões sobre tradições de desenhar na areia entre os povos da África ao Sul do Equador, at the University of Wuppertal, Germany.

As an academic, Paulus was responsible for numerous contributions to the theorization of craft and the formulation and solution of mathematical questions of the imaginary and folk craft. All his contributions have important implications for pedagogy with strong socio-cultural roots.

Paulus was one of the most important researchers on Ethnomathematics, always trying to analyze the historical and epistemological foundations of mathematics and proposing important pedagogical innovations. He managed to organize a very active group of young researchers, bringing together mathematicians and educators. The publications of the group, mainly in Portuguese and English, are an important resource for those interested in conducting research on Ethnomathematics worldwide. Many of these publications are generously available to all interested parties, for free or at low cost, in the publisher’s website “” where Paulus published almost all of his books.

In addition to academic activities of research, Paulus has always been involved with Education, especially Mathematics Education. The way he associated research and education is exemplary. In Maputo in 1989, he founded the “Centro de Pesquisas em Etnomatemática – Cultura, Matemática e Educação” and, thanks to his innovative proposals, he was very successful in attracting to Mozambique academics from around the world, interested in his research projects.

As a historian, Paulus Gerdes contributed significantly to the understanding of the history of mathematical ideas, theories and practices, in the African continent. His concern was to organize the historical context of existing practices and theories found in various African cultures. His main focus was a wide bibliographic research on the History of Mathematics in Africa. The results of his research have been crucial to mathematics historians worldwide.

His concerns went beyond identifying other Mathematical thinking models. He felt that creativity could be improved if cultural dignity was restored. The post-apartheid period in South Africa had many repercussions throughout the African continent. It represented a new and important space for the development of the creative potential of the native populations. Ethnomathematics proved to be an important strategy for the rebirth of African creativity and Paulus Gerdes was always extremely skilled at channeling that potential to form a numerous generation of researchers in Mathematics Education.

He was responsible for a change of attitude in regards to crafts and folklore. Crafts have been considered of minor importance in reflections on science and mathematics in the world, and its use in education have been neglected. Paulus recovered, from his search with artisans, the fundamental importance of craft as a basis for the historical development of mathematics. The most important primary sources for his research were artisanal practices. The research on these practices reveal the theoretical foundation of Paulus’ work.

Paulus Gerdes acknowledged that the culture of people, of artists, of artisans constitutes an endless source for mathematical research and Mathematics Education. Mathematics professors of all levels can learn, from their students, what is characteristic of their cultures. The students can show the way to achieve a practice. The makings of artisans, fishermen, peasants, in short, of all the groups that master a practice, are based on knowledge that has been developed by arduous paths, over generations. I emphasize in a very special way the exemplary attention that Paulus dedicated to women in the evolution of African cultures.

As Paulus Gerdes highlighted well in his writings and in his lectures, when studying a demonstration, it is rarely understood how the result was discovered. The path that leads to a discovery is, in general, very different from the paved road of deduction. In poetic language, Paulus tells us that “A via da descoberta abre-se serpenteando por um terreno de vegetação densa e cheio de obstáculos, às vezes aparentemente sem saída, até que, de repente, se encontra uma clareira de surpresas relampejantes. E, quase de imediato, a alegria do inesperado “heureka” (gr. “achei”, “encontrei”) rasga triunfantemente o caminho.”

In fact, Paulus was a poet in his thinking as a philosopher, mathematician, anthropologist, and educator.

To mourn a poet of life so dear to all of us and irreplaceable, I ask for help to a very beloved poet who also left us prematurely, Facundo Cabral. His farewell to a friend expresses very well my feelings.

Cuando  Un  Amigo  Se Va
(Facundo Cabral)

Cuando un amigo se va, queda un espacio vacio
Que no lo puede llenar la llegada de otro amigo
Cuando un amigo se va, queda un tizón encendido
Que no se puede apagar ni con las aguas de un rio
Cuando un amigo se va, una estrella se a perdido
La que ilumina el lugar donde hay un niño dormido
Cuando un amigo se va, se detienen los caminos
Y se empieza a revelar el duende manso del vino
Cuando un amigo se va, salopando su destino
Empieza el alma a vibrar por que se llena de frio
Cuando un amigo se va, queda un terreno baldío
Que quiere el tiempo llenar con las piedras del astillo
Cuando un amigo se va, se queda un árbol caído
Que ya no vuelve a brotar por que el viento a vencido
Cuando un amigo se va, queda un espacio vacio

Que no lo puede llenar la llegada de otro amigo.

Ubiratan D’Ambrosio