Professor Marta Bunge’s personal library is donated to the IME-USP Library

The books became available to the public as they were cataloged on their arrival in December 2023

The library of Professor Dr. Marta Bunge (1938-2022) donated to IME is composed of more than 800 books identified by the Bunge label and the ex-libris of a dragonfly. In overview, the books cover the area of Category Theory, Professor Bunge’s specialty, whose knowledge can also be applied to other sciences (physics, biology, philosophy, etc.).

Marta Bunge was an emeritus professor at McGill University in Canada, recognized for her work in synthetic variational calculus and synthetic differential topology. In 1966, she obtained her PhD with the thesis Categories of Set Valued Functors, oriented by Peter J. Freyd and William Lawvere. From the same year, she held the position of postdoctoral researcher at McGill University, where she became an assistant professor in 1969, being the only woman in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics for about 30 years. She became a full professor in 1985 and retired as professor emeritus in 2003.

The donation

The story of this donation begins with a family friend, the Brazilian mathematician Valéria de Paiva, who works at the Topos Institute in Berkeley, California. A pioneer in Category Theory research in Brazil, she was a supporter of Dr. Marta Bunge and has already spearheaded and co-edited a special issue of the journal Theory and Applications of Categories in her honor (Volume 40 – Bunge Festschrift). 

Professor Noson Yanofsky organising the books to be donated
Prof. Dr. Silvia Bunge and Mr. Eric Bunge

So, after the death of Professor Marta Bunge, her daughter and son, Silvia and Eric Bunge, were looking for a university to donate her library, when they contacted Dr. de Paiva to ask for help. She, meanwhile, informed Professor Hugo Mariano, from IME’s Mathematics Department, about this opportunity.

Valeria explained, “Hugo has been very active in creating a center for CT in Brazil and I’m sure Marta would appreciate being part of getting categories to Latin America.” Professor Mariano replied that the Institute would be honored to receive our mother’s library, and then the journey began.
(Prof. Dr. Silvia Bunge and Mr. Eric Bunge)
It was another great surprise to know the extent and, above all, the quality and diversity of the collection donated by Professor Marta Bunge’s family. As far as I could see, there are some exceptional books in various areas, but especially those connected to category theory and algebra.
(Prof. Hugo Luiz Mariano)

Another friend and supporter of Dr. Bunge’s, Professor Noson Yanofsky of Brooklyn College, also helped with the donation process, selecting and packing the books he considered useful. The books were sent to USP’s Institute of Mathematics and Statistics in São Paulo by ship.

Getting the books shipped to São Paulo by ocean freight was a very long and complicated process, and we encountered unexpected challenges along the way. So we were delighted and relieved that they finally made it from Brooklyn, New York to the Institute of Mathematics of the University of São Paulo!  We owe a debt of gratitude to Professor Hugo Mariano, Ms. Stela Madruga, Professor Noson Yanofsky, Dr. Valeria de Paiva, and everyone else who made this possible.
(Prof. Dr. Silvia Bunge and Mr. Eric Bunge)

Availability of the collection at BIME

Marta Cavallo Bunge’s ex-libris

The whole donation process took around eight months, and the books arrived in December 2023, when they were cataloged and made available for borrowing at the IME Library. During cataloging, the physical condition of the books is checked (they must be in good enough condition to compose the library’s collection), as well as their sub-area for arrangement in the library.

According to Librarian Stela Madruga, Technical Head of Service, responsible for the IME Library, the donation consisted of 856 books, some of which belong to the special collection, which can only be consulted on the Library facilities. The books can be identified by the “BUNGE” label on the spine, as well as the ex-libris stamp of a dragonfly on the first page. Many copies also have the signature of Professor Marta Bunge on the first page.

The symbol of the ex-libris was not chosen by chance. Silvia Bunge once read that the dragonfly symbolizes wisdom and transformation: “perfect for a body of knowledge transferred from our mother’s personal library to a university”. Her brother, Eric, recalled that during a walk, Professor Marta was once followed all the way home by a dragonfly. 

Who was Professor Marta Cavallo Bunge?

By Prof. Dr. Silvia Bunge and Mr. Eric Bunge

Prof. Dr. Marta Cavallo Bunge in her library – Mr. Eric Bunge

Our mother was born and raised in Buenos Aires, after which she and our father, the late philosopher Mario Bunge, lived in the U.S. and Europe before settling in Montreal for decades. She was a theoretical mathematician with many outside interests, including music, literature, architecture, politics, and more. She was such a creative writer that we begged her to retire and write a novel, but she didn’t want to give up on her work. A native Spanish speaker, she spoke English flawlessly and was fluent in French, Italian, and Greek. She was an adventurer, swimming long distances while dodging motorboats, cross-country skiing in the bitter cold north of Montreal, and planning elaborate family trips to faraway lands like Egypt and India.

Our mother was also very involved throughout her career in the struggle for human rights, advocating for mathematicians incarcerated for their political beliefs, and raising awareness about their conditions. She was an avid reader of many international journals, and uncompromising in her critique of nations that don’t uphold human rights.

Marta Bunge was the only woman in her department at McGill University for the first 30 years of her faculty position, after which a second one was hired. She experienced sexism but didn’t consider herself a feminist; she just pursued her passion for math. She didn’t talk about her work much (we wouldn’t have understood it), so it’s been gratifying to hear from her colleagues and former students that she was a brilliant mathematician, an inspiring and generous teacher, and a warm colleague.

Being a mathematician was as central to our mother’s self-concept as was being a mother. She told us once that mathematicians don’t ever really retire: they just stop working when they die. In fact, she was working on a journal review just days before the end of her life. 

Farewell to a bright, funny, cultured, elegant, passionate, and fearless mother.

 By: Nathalie Rodrigues | Institutional Support Service

Contributions: Prof. Dr. Silvia Bunge, Mr. Eric Bunge, Prof. Dr. Hugo Luiz Mariano, and Librarian M.Sc. Stela Madruga