Showing posts with label Education. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Education. Show all posts

15 August 2018

Carlo Cipolla - economic historian

Professor famous for treatise on ‘stupidity’

Carlo Cipolla's tongue-in-cheek book about human stupidity became a bestseller in Italy
Carlo Cipolla's tongue-in-cheek book about human stupidity
became a bestseller in Italy
Carlo Maria Cipolla, an economic historian who for many years was a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and taught at several Italian universities, was born on this day in 1922 in Pavia.

He was one of the leading economic historians of the 20th century and wrote more than 20 academic books on economic and social history but also on such diverse subjects as clocks, guns and faith, reason and the plague in 17th century Italy.

Yet it was for his humorous treatise, The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity, that he became famous. The book, written very much tongue in cheek, became a bestseller in Italy after it was published in 1976.

In it, Cipolla produced a graph that divided the human species into four types, each sharing one characteristic of another type.

He proposed that there are (a) bandits, whose actions bring benefits for themselves but losses for others; (b) intelligent people, whose actions bring benefits for themselves and for others; (c) naive or helpless people, whose actions bring benefits for others but who tend to be exploited and therefore incur losses for themselves; and (d) stupid people, whose actions result not only in losses for themselves but for others too.

His Five Laws of Human Stupidity argued that everyone underestimates the number of stupid people in society, that certain people had a strong likelihood of being stupid irrespective of other characteristics, that a stupid person inevitably causes losses to other people while deriving no gain from his or her actions, that non-stupid people repeatedly underestimate the damage likely to result from dealing or associating with stupid people, and that because of the lack of predictability and logic in a stupid person’s behaviour, a stupid person was more dangerous than a bandit.

The matrix that Cipolla included in his Basic Laws  of Human Stupidity was something like this
The matrix that Cipolla included in his Basic Laws
of Human Stupidity
was something like this
Growing up, Cipolla’s ambition was to teach history and philosophy in an Italian high school.

He studied political science at Pavia University but thanks to one of his professors he discovered his passion for economic history, which he subsequently studied at the Sorbonne and the London School of Economics.

After obtaining his first teaching post in economic history in Catania in Sicily at the age of 27, he embarked on an academic career that would see him appointed to positions at the universities of Venice, Turin and Pavia, the European Institute in Florence and the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa.

He began teaching at UC Berkeley in 1959 and, for more than 30 years, Cipolla and his American-born wife Ora divided their year between Berkeley, where they would spend the late summer and autumn, and Pavia, to which they returned for spring and early summer.

Cipolla was a member of the Royal Historical Society of Great Britain, the British Academy, the Accademia dei Lincei, American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia. He was awarded the Premio della Presidente della Repubblica in Italy, and the Premio Balzan, as well as honorary degrees in Italy and Zurich, Switzerland.

His wide range of interests was evident in his passion for collecting as well as academic study. His homes were filled with impressive collections of ancient coins, old clocks, 18th century Italian paintings and Roman surgical instruments among other things.

Cipolla died in Pavia in 2000 at the age of 78, having for many years suffered from Parkinson’s Disease.

The Certosa di Pavia, which dates back to 1396
The Certosa di Pavia, which dates back to 1396
Travel tip:

Pavia is a city in Lombardy, about 46km (30 miles) south of Milan. Its university was founded in 1361 and was the sole university in the Duchy of Milan until the 19th century. Its alumni include explorer Christopher Columbus, physicist Alessandro Volta and the poet and revolutionary Ugo Foscolo. Pavia is also famous for its Certosa, a magnificent Renaissance monastery complex north of the city that dates back to 1396 and includes a number of important sculptures and frescoes. A pretty covered bridge over the River Ticino leads to Borgo Ticino, where the inhabitants claim to be the true people of Pavia.

The Palazzo dei Cavalieri, main seat of the Scuola  Normale Superiore in Pisa
The Palazzo dei Cavalieri, main seat of the Scuola
Normale Superiore in Pisa
Travel tip:

The Scuola Normale Superiore - known and the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa until it was expanded to include faculties in Florence in 2014 - is often known in Italy simply as the Normale. Opened in 1810, its origins are in the Napoleonic era, when it was the equivalent of France’s École normale supérieure. The adjective "normal" was used in the sense of teaching societal “norms". In the 19th century, teachers' training schools were called "normal" schools for this reason.  Many scientists, researchers and intellectuals, as well as prominent public figures, including two Presidents of Italy, were students there. It admits only a relatively small number of students per year and is seen as one of the most prestigious universities in Italy.

More reading:

The University of Pavia professor known as the 'father of criminology'

Alessandro Volta - the scientist who invented the first electric battery

Ugo Foscolo - poet and revolutionary

Also on this day:

1702: The birth of landscape painter Francesco Zuccarelli

1944: The birth of fashion designer Gianfranco Ferré


15 September 2017

The first free public school in Europe

Frascati sees groundbreaking development in education

José de Calasanz arrived in Rome from his native Aragon in 1592
José de Calasanz arrived in Rome from
his native Aragon in 1592
The first free public school in Europe opened its doors to children on this day in 1616 in Frascati, a town in Lazio just a few kilometres from Rome.

The school was founded by a Spanish Catholic priest, José de Calasanz, who was originally from Aragon but who moved to Rome in 1592 at the age of 35.

Calasanz had a passion for education and in particular made it his life’s work to set up schools for children who did not have the benefit of coming from wealthy families.

Previously, schools existed only for the children of noble families or for those studying for the priesthood. Calasanz established Pious Schools and a religious order responsible for running them, who became known as the Piarists.

Calasanz had been a priest for 10 years when he decided to go to Rome in the hope of furthering his ecclesiastical career.  He soon became involved with helping neglected and homeless children via the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.

He would gather up poor children on the streets and take them to schools, only to find that the teachers, who were not well paid, would not accept them unless Calasanz provided them with extra money.

Calasanz, who was a well-educated man, responded by setting up the first Pious School in the centre of Rome in 1600, so that homeless, orphaned and neglected children had somewhere to go and could be provided with a basic education.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart owed his early education to a Pious School
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart owed his early
education to a Pious School
An annual contribution from Pope Clement VIII helped fund the project, which grew so quickly that it was not long before Calasanz was helping around 1,000 of Rome’s most deprived children.

He rented a house nears the church of Sant'Andrea della Valle in central Rome, where he founded the Order of the Pious Schools or Piarists. He wrote a document setting out the principles of his educational philosophy, with regulations for teachers and for students.

The Frascati school differed from others he had set up in that it was open to all children, not only those he rescued from poverty on the streets.  It was also open to children who were not orphaned or neglected, but who came from poor families and would not otherwise have had the chance to receive a formal education.

It is therefore recognised as the first free public primary school in Europe.

The Piarists spread the concept of free primary education and as well as setting up many more schools across Europe encouraged many states to follow their lead.

Francisco Goya, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Schubert, Gregor Mendel and Victor Hugo all owed their early education to Piarist Schools.

The church of San Giuseppe Calasanzio in Milan
The church of San Giuseppe Calasanzio in Milan
Calasanz died in 1648 at the age of 90, his legacy tarnished, unfortunately, by clashes with powerful senior figures in the Catholic Church over his support for the heliocentric theories that landed Galileo Galilei in trouble, and also over the behaviour of some clerics involved in the Piarist Schools.  As a result, Calasanz was removed as senior general of the Order.

However, eight years after his death, Pope Alexander VII cleared his name and that of the Pious Schools.  In 1748 he was beatified by Pope Benedict XIV and canonised by Pope Clement XIII in 1767.

In 1948, Pope Pius XII declared Saint Joseph of Calasanz the patron of Christian popular schools.

A number of churches have been dedicated to Saint Joseph, including the modern Chiesa di San Giuseppe Calasanzio in via Don Carlo Gnocchi, in the San Siro district of Milan, which was designed by the architect Carlo Bevilacqua and completed in 1965.

The Villa Aldobrandi in Frascati
The Villa Aldobrandi in Frascati
Travel tip:

Situated just 21km (13 miles) from the centre of Rome, Frascati offers visitors to the region an alternative to staying in the capital that is more peaceful and relaxed.  One of the towns that make up the Castelli Romani, it is perched on a hill to the southeast of Rome, offering fine views across the city as well as cleaner air. It was popular with the wealthy from Roman times to the Renaissance, and remains a draw for Romans today, although thankfully with bars and restaurants to suit all pockets.  In its heyday there were many grand villas and it was unfortunate that the town’s strategic position made it a target for bombing during the Second World War, with many buildings destroyed. The Villa Aldobrandi, which overlooks one of the main piazzas, is one that remains, with extensive gardens open to the public.

The Basilica of Sant'Andrea della Valle
The Basilica of Sant'Andrea della Valle
Travel tip:

The Basilica of Sant’Andrea della Valle, situated in the heart of historic Rome where Corso del Rinascimento meets Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, is as famous for having been an important setting in the Puccini opera Tosca as it is for its baroque art and architecture. The first act is set inside the 17th-century baroque church, whose dome is the third largest in the city after the Pantheon and St. Peter's. Like the façade, the dome was designed by Carlo Maderno.  The humanist popes from Siena, Pius II and Pius III, are both buried inside.

11 September 2017

Ulisse Aldrovandi – naturalist

Professor became fascinated with plants while under house arrest

Ulisse Aldrovandi: a portrait housed at the Accademia  Carrara in Bergamo, attributed to Agostino Carracci
Ulisse Aldrovandi: a portrait housed at the Accademia
Carrara in Bergamo, attributed to Agostino Carracci
Ulisse Aldrovandi, who is considered to be the father of natural history studies, was born on this day in 1522 in Bologna.

He became renowned for his systematic and accurate observations of animals, plants and minerals and he established the first botanical garden in Bologna, now known as the Orto Botanico dell’Università di Bologna.

Aldrovandi’s gardens were in the grounds of Palazzo Pubblico in Bologna but in 1803 they were moved to their present location in Via Imerio, where they are run by the University of Bologna but are open to the public every day except Sunday.

The professor was also the first person to extensively document neurofibromatosis disease, which is a type of skin tumour.

Aldrovandi, who is sometimes referred to as Aldrovandus or Aldroandi, was born into a noble family. He studied humanities and law at the universities of Bologna and Padua and became a notary. He then became interested in studying philosophy and logic, which he combined with the study of medicine.

Aldrovandi commissioned artists to  illustrate his catalogues of wildlife
Aldrovandi commissioned artists to
illustrate his catalogues of wildlife
He was charged with heresy in 1549, accused of supporting theories doubting the Holy Trinity, and kept under house arrest in Rome until he was absolved in 1550.

During this time he developed an interest in botany, zoology and geology and, as soon as he was free to travel, he organised expeditions to the mountains, countryside, islands and coastal regions of Italy to collect and catalogue plants.

After obtaining a degree in medicine and philosophy in 1553, Aldrovandi started teaching logic and philosophy at the University of Bologna.

He rose to become Professor of Philosophy and then in 1561 became the first Professor of Natural Sciences at the university.

Aldrovandi assembled a collection of curiosities, about 7000 nature specimens, for which he wrote detailed descriptions. He collected plants for an herbarium and preserved more than 4,000 sheets of dried specimens in 16 volumes. He also commissioned artists to make illustrations of his specimens.

After a dispute about the composition of a popular medicine with pharmacists and doctors, Aldrovandi was suspended from all public positions for five years.

Aldrovandi painstakingly dried and preserved the leaves of plant species
Aldrovandi painstakingly dried and
preserved the leaves of plant species
In 1577 he sought the aid of Pope Gregory XIII, who was a cousin of his mother. The Pope wrote to the authorities in Bologna asking for Aldrovandi to be reinstated and also gave him financial aid to help him publish his books.

Aldrovandi left his vast collection of works on botany and zoology to the Senate of Bologna and after his death at the age of 82 in 1605 they were conserved in Palazzo Pubblico and then in Palazzo Poggi.

They were distributed among other libraries in the 19th century but in 1907 some of the collection was brought back to Palazzo Poggi. In 2005 an exhibition to mark the 400th anniversary of Aldrovandi’s death was held there.

A ridge of the moon is named Dorsa Aldrovandi and the plant genus Aldrovanda is also named after him.

The Ulisse Aldrovandi Museum at the Palazzo Poggi
The Ulisse Aldrovandi Museum at the Palazzo Poggi
Travel tip:

Palazzo Poggi in Via Zamboni in Bologna is now the headquarters of the University of Bologna and contains the Ulisse Aldrovandi Museum. The palace was built between 1549 and 1560 for the Poggi family and became the Home of the Institute of Sciences in 1714. During the Napoleonic period the various collections became scattered between different museums but at the end of the last century the University set up a project to bring the dispersed collections back to their historic home.

The Aldrovandi Botanical Gardens in Bologna
The Aldrovandi Botanical Gardens in Bologna
Travel tip:

One of the main sights in the small town of San Giovanni in Persiceto near Bologna is the Civico Orto Botanico Ulisse Aldrovandi, a municipal botanical garden established in 1985 and named in honour of the naturalist.

6 January 2017

First Montessori school opens in Rome

Educationalist Maria Montessori launches Casa dei Bambini

Maria Montessori in Rome in 1913
Maria Montessori in Rome in 1913
The first of what would become recognised across the world as Montessori schools opened its doors in Rome on this day in 1907.

The Casa dei Bambini, in the working class neighbourhood of San Lorenzo, was launched by the physician and educationalist Maria Montessori.

Montessori - the first woman in Italy to qualify as a physician - had enjoyed success with her teaching methods while working with children as a volunteer at Rome University's psychiatric clinic.

She was convinced that the techniques she had used to help children with learning difficulties and more serious mental health issues could be adapted for the benefit of all children.

The Casa dei Bambini came into being after Montessori had been invited to work on a housing project in San Lorenzo, where her responsibility was to oversee the care and education of the project's children while their parents were at work.

Situated in Via dei Marsi, it catered for between 50 and 60 children aged between two and seven.  The methods Montessori employed, which included many practical activities as well as more conventional lessons and revolved around allowing children to follow the direction in which their own interests led them, were essentially the same as those that would become the hallmarks of her philosophy.

Maria Montessori's image featured on Italy's  1000 lire banknotes prior to the switch to the Euro
Maria Montessori's image featured on Italy's
1000 lire banknotes prior to the switch to the Euro
Children developed self-discipline and self-motivation in the environment she created for them, while their intellectual attainments outstripped those of children in conventional education. Word of the method's success quickly spread.  A second Casa dei Bambini was opened later the same year, followed by three more in 1908.  By 1915, schools in every major European country were using the Montessori method, which was being taken up with enthusiasm in parts of Australia, Asia, South America and the Middle East.

It became popular in the United States from about 1911 onwards and by 1913 there were about 100 Montessori schools.  Maria Montessori embarked on a number of lecture tours, although the popularity of her methods went into decline from about 1925, largely because of opposition from the educational establishment.  It did not gain momentum again until the 1950s.

Nonetheless, at their peak, Montessori schools in the United States numbered around 4,000 out of approximately 7,000 across the world.

Maria Montessori was born in 1870 in the town of Chiaravalle in the province of Ancona in Le Marche. Her parents were well educated middle-class people but were traditional and conservative in their outlook, especially when it came to the role of women in society.

They moved to Florence and then Rome because of her father's work with the Ministry of Finance.  This afforded her better educational opportunities, yet she was not encouraged to aim higher than teaching as a career.  It was somewhat in defiance of what she perceived as restrictions on her ambition that she first set out to study engineering and then switched to medicine, enrolling at the University of Rome.

It was unheard of for a woman to study medicine at the time and she met with hostility from both professors and fellow students.  She had to perform her dissection of cadavers alone in her own time because it was deemed inappropriate for her to attend classes with men in the presence of a naked body, even one preserved in formaldehyde.

Maria Montessori's name still adorns the wall of the Casa dei Bambini in Rome, which is no longer a Montessori school
Maria Montessori's name still adorns the wall of the Casa
dei Bambini in Rome, which is no longer a Montessori school 
Yet she persevered and became a trailblazer for women in medicine when she obtained her degree in 1896.

Afterwards, she remained at Rome University to research into so-called 'phrenasthenic' children - those deemed to be mentally retarded.  It was her observation of the behaviour of these children that led her to discover ways of teasing out the intrinsic intelligence she believed existed in all children.

During that time, she had a son, Mario, as a result of an affair with a fellow doctor.  Convention at the time dictated that were she to have married the father she would have been expected to abandon her career.  She refused to contemplate such a sacrifice and Mario was placed in foster care, although they would be reunited in his teenage years and he would go on to continue his mother's work after her death.

The growth of the Montessori method suffered a setback during the 1930s when Benito Mussolini, the leader of the Italian Fascist government, who had initially embraced Maria Montessori's ideas, began closing Montessori schools if their teachers did not swear loyalty to the state.  In Germany, Hitler's Nazi party took a similarly hard line, banning the Montessori method and even burning copies of her books.

Maria fled with her son to India, where she knew her methods were growing in popularity, but once Italy signed a formal alliance with Germany they were both arrested as aliens.  Although Maria was spared any restriction on her movement, Mario was incarcerated in a prison camp.

At the end of the war they returned to Europe and Maria based herself in Amsterdam.  Nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize, she died in the Netherlands in 1952 at the age of 81.

Piazza Mazzini in Chiaravalle, where Maria  Montessori was born in 1870
Piazza Mazzini in Chiaravalle, where Maria
Montessori was born in 1870
Travel tip:

Maria Montessori's birthplace in Chiaravalle in Piazza Mazzini is open to the public.  It houses a museum containing a collection of the educational materials developed by Montessori and used in the original Casa dei Bambini.  It is also the head office of the Montessori Foundation.

Travel tip:

The San Lorenzo district adjoins the campus of Rome's Sapienza University and sits just to the north of the main Roma Termini station.  Dominated by Via Tiburtina, it is a gritty, somewhat down at heel neighbourhood that has suffered through the decline of industry in the city yet is home to a vibrant youth culture thanks to a large student population.

More reading:

The 17th century philosophy student thought to be the first woman in the world to receive an academic degree

How 18th century scientist Laura Bassi broke new ground for female academics

Tullio Levi-Civita - the mathematician Einstein admired

Also on this day:

Befana - the post-Christmas gift bonus for Italy's children

(Picture credits: Banknotes by Flanker via Wikimedia Commons)


25 June 2016

Elena Cornaro Piscopia – philosopher

First woman to graduate from a university

Portrait of Elena Cornaro Piscopia
An 18th century portrait of Elena Cornaro
Piscopia, which is owned by Biblioteca
 Ambrosiana in Milan
Elena Cornaro Piscopia became the first woman to receive an academic degree from a university on this day in 1678, it is believed, in Padua.

She was awarded her degree in philosophy at a special ceremony in the Duomo in Padua in the presence of dignitaries from the University of Padua and guests from other Italian universities.

Piscopia was born in a palazzo in Venice in 1646. Her father had an important post at St Mark’s and he was entitled to accommodation in St Mark’s Square.

On the advice of a priest who was a family friend, she was taught Latin and Greek when she was a young child. She was proficient in both languages by the time she was seven. She then went on to master other languages as well as mathematics, philosophy and theology.

Photo of Padua Duomo
The Duomo in Padua, where Elena Cornaro Piscopia received
her degree in a special ceremony in 1678
Her tutor wanted her to study for a degree in theology at Padua University but the Bishop of Padua refused to allow it because she was female, although he allowed her to study philosophy instead.

On the day of her degree ceremony Piscopia demonstrated her brilliance in front of the specially invited audience by explaining difficult passages from Aristotle in faultless Latin.

She received congratulations from the distinguished audience and the laurel wreath was placed on her head.

Piscopia died in 1685 in Padua and her academic writings were published a few years later.

Travel tip:

The University of Padua, established in 1222, is one of the oldest in the world. The main building is Palazzo del Bò in Via 8 Febbraio in the centre of the city. The building used to house the medical faculty and it is possible to take a guided tour of the building and see the lectern used by Galileo when he taught there between 1592 and 1610. 

Photo of the Basilica of St Anthony in Padua
The Basilica of St Anthony in Padua
Travel tip:

The city of Padua - or Padova - in the Veneto region of northern Italy is best known for the frescoes by Giotto that adorn the Scrovegni Chapel and for the vast 13th-century Basilica of St. Anthony, notable for its Byzantine-style domes. The old part of the town has arcaded streets and many cafes.