Dirk J. Struik

New York Times obituary

Dirk J. Struik; Historian Was 106

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Dr. Dirk Jan Struik, a prolific historian of mathematics who taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1926 to 1960, died on Saturday at his home in Belmont, Mass. He was 106.

Born in the Netherlands, Dr. Struik (pronounced stroyk) traced his interest in the history of mathematics to his experiences in Italy as a fledgling scholar. It prompted him to put mathematics into a social context, from ancient Greece and on to present. It also shaped his thinking as an unwavering Marxist who shunned Soviet-style communism.

He wrote the two-volume ''Concise History of Mathematics,'' published in 1948 and translated into many languages. A fourth revised American edition was issued by Dover in 1987 and remains in print.

Other works include ''Yankee Science in the Making,'' ''Lectures on Projected Geometry'' and ''Lectures on Classical Differential Geometry.''

The Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology at M.I.T. paid tribute to Dr. Struik and his ''Concise History'' on his centennial in 1994. ''With this book and his historical scholarship,'' declared its executive director, Dr. Evelyn Simha, ''Struik has become the instructor responsible for half the world's basic knowledge of the history of mathematics.''

His socialist beliefs led to charges of disloyalty to his adopted country after World War II. In 1951, a county grand jury accused him of advocating the overthrow of the government. M.I.T. then suspended him from teaching, though with full pay and benefits, pending court action. His case was dropped five years later for lack of evidence and after a Supreme Court ruling that the states had no jurisdiction in such matters.

While his professorship was restored, an M.I.T. panel formally chided Dr. Struik for ''unbecoming'' conduct. It rebuked him largely for declining to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee and for being less than candid with the M.I.T. hierarchy.

A native of Rotterdam, Dirk Struik received a Ph.D. in mathematics at the University of Leiden in 1922. He received a Rockefeller grant from 1924 to 1926 and studied in Europe. He was then invited to lecture at M.I.T. and eventually to join the faculty. After retiring from M.I.T., he continued to write and lecture.

Dr. Struik is survived by three daughters, Dr. Ruth Rebekka Struik, herself an emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of Colorado; Anne Macchi, a retired teacher in Arlington, Mass.; and Gwendolyn Bray, an ecologist living in New Zealand; 10 grandchildren, and 3 great-grandchildren.

When he turned 100, Dr. Struik attributed his long life to the pleasures of his profession. Asked what he missed most, he replied simply, ''My wife.'' His wife of 70 years, Dr. Saly Ruth Ramler, a mathematics professor, died in 1993 at age 99.

By WOLFGANG SAXON, October 26, 2000 © The New York Times Company