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Education and Care Professions: the Contribution of Historical Knowledge

Education and Care Professions: the Contribution of Historical Knowledge
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Education and Care Professions: the Contribution of Historical Knowledge

A symposium at the University of Florence, Italy, November 5-6, 2018

By Christel Radica and Patrizia Guarnieri

Historians should and do study the many and varied limitations of the efforts of saving children because we want to be clear about the costs as well as the benefits of different forms of caring as we evaluate the complex and multidimensional nature of human behaviour and the often self-interested sources of that behaviour, even in its most seemingly altruistic form.  But in the end, in the Western countries the commitment to caring for our children, as parents, as neighbours, as teachers, doctors and professionals, as public officials, and as strangers is an important and valuable expression of perhaps the most fundamental aspect of our social consciousness.

By these words Paula Fass, the Margaret Byrne Professor of History Emerita at the University of California at Berkeley, opened the symposium held in Florence on 5 and 6 November 2018, a symposium attended by numerous students, scholars and care experts. As the Provost of the University of Florence underlined, this event was the result of a strategic project about the history of care and educational professions planned and realised by a scientific committee made up of Gianfranco Bandini, Pietro Causarano, Stefano Oliviero, all professors of history of education, and Patrizia Guarnieri, professor of modern history, and an expert in the history of childhood and health and a member of the SHCY, which gave its patronage to the conference.1

The first day of the symposium was entitled ‘To cure and to take care of children and adolescents in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.’, and its focus was about the ways of taking care of children. The organizers invited the well-known professor Paula Fass.2 to give her inspiring keynote; she stressed that the origins of commitments regarding childhood reach far back in history as the Innocenti in Florence testifies. Nevertheless, the Western middle classes have elevated childhood into a special place in the culture since the middle of the nineteenth century and this is why she decided to discuss in her talk different approaches of saving children that took place starting at this point in history. She focused on four historical examples: the ‘New York Children’s Aid Society' (founded by Charles Loring Brace in 1853), the ‘United States Children’s Bureau’ (established in 1912), the Kindertransport of Jewish refugee children from Germany and Austria (1938-39) and the ‘Radda Barn’, the Swedish branch of the ‘Save the children’ organization that became especially noteworthy during and after World War II. Paula Fass pointed out limitations and benefits of these experiences, but she concluded with the above quoted considerations. These campaigns, as do many others, testify that Western social consciousness has chosen children as its main object.

Patrizia Guarnieri agreed in establishing a turning point in the nineteenth century when  the awareness that children need attention and care not only when they are ill but also in ‘normal’ conditions firmly appeared.3 With reference to the Italian case, Patrizia Guarnieri went beyond wondering ‘When did the history of care professions start in our country?’.

Paula FassPaula Fass Reading

On the one hand, the establishment of a state organisation to take care of mothers and children, the Opera Nazionale Maternità e Infanzia (ONMI) in 1925 has fostered the idea that Fascism gave birth to Italian children welfare. On the other hand, it has been stated that only after the Second World War, above all thanks to Anglo-American influences, Italy became acquainted with modern approaches to the care of children. These theses appear contradictory, but both are invalidated by historical studies on the many Italian public and private institutions which took care of and protected children much earlier the Fascist period, and were ‘cancelled’ from memory. Fascism used them for its own propagandistic goals and pretended to have invented the commitment to caring for children. As Patrizia Guarnieri pointed out, we should not divide the history of care and educative professions from the ‘objects’ of their work.  She invited scholars to tell the story of those people, even before they were fully recognized as professionals who took care of and looked to cure children. This approach required that we write a long history of care and the education professions in Italy. 

Scholars in this first day of the conference adopted the international periodisation suggested by Paula Fass and tried to meet Patrizia Guarnieri’s challenge. Christel Radica (PhD Nottingham), who conducted research on sexual violence against children in Florence in the nineteenth century, showed by examing historical records how people in the society and private institutions could support children in danger even before Fascism.4 She detected also in her research a turning point at the middle of the century as sentences against rapists started to become stricter. Although from this period onwards, as Patrizia Guarnieri argued, even ‘normal’ children became objects of attention and care, sometimes the definitions of ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ were affected by ideologies and bias. This was confirmed by Elisabetta Benetti (PhD Verona-Venezia- Padova) who inquired into the definitions of ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ given to children by doctors during Fascism.5 The following papers, from a group of historians of the University of Florence, showed the Italian care professions at work during the second half of the twentieth century. Nica La Banca described the problematic involvement of social workers in public organisations soon after the World War II.6 Anna Badino gave a more specific example of this involvement by showing how school teachers and social workers dealt with Italian child immigrants from the south to the north of Italy in the 1960s.7 Clara Silva focused on the support given in Italy to foreign children who came on their own to Italy from the ’90s to the present.8 Last but not least, Pietro Causarano described how after the Second World Word a new definition of ‘profession’ also began to involve the caregivers.9 Francesco Maccelli studied the Italian census of professions from the Unification of Italy to 2011: psychologists were registered by law as professional workers only in 1989 and social workers in 1993 even if they had already been working for years and the latter had academic courses since 1904 and high school courses since 1879.

All the papers proved how long the history of education and care professions have been. Nevertheless, in order to better meet Guarnieri’s challenge, we should investigate much more our past and the wide variety of the Italian ‘saving children’ experiences. 

This first day of conference ended with a round table discussion which involved the president of the Tuscan social workers, the director of cultural and social projects of the Istituto degli Innocenti, the vice-president of the Italian Society of children and adolescents’ neuropsychiatry (SINPIA), the president of the Tuscan Psychologists and the president of the Tuscan juvenile court. Patrizia Guarnieri suggested several issues for the debate: first, has the major presence of women practicing educative and care professions had an influence on the scientific status of these jobs and related fields of studies? Second, why is history not any longer requested in current  Italian training of care and educative professions, unlike what occurred in the 1970s and 1980s? Finally, according to their opinions, what kind of contribution can historians give to the work of professionals? All the participants stressed the importance given in the round table to the interaction between historians and care experts, which is quite unusual in Italy.

The second day of the conference was entitled ‘Public history of Education 1st National Meeting: considerations, evidences, experiences.’ Luigi Tommassini (University of Bologna) outlined the recent history of the Italian Association of Public History (AIPH).10 It defines public history as an open field which involves different participants: academics, school teachers, people working in museums, local historical societies and many others. Moving from this definition, Gianfranco Bandini suggested that work be done on what he called ‘The public history of education Manifesto’ through the contributions coming from academic studies, experiences in schools and in other organisations.11

The aim should be the recognition of social needs and the joint construction of an historical knowledge able to give critical answers to those needs. 

The whole day was devoted to the sharing of public history experiences in universities,  schools and museums. For instance, starting from academic studies, Emiliano Macinai and Stefano Oliviero collected memories of people working in the first nursery schools in Tuscany.12 Monica Ferrari (University of Pavia) suggested that the history of education could be enriched by research on teaching materials.13 What she called ‘the teaching of objects’ has already been experienced in Mantova where many teaching materials used between the nineteenth and the twenty centuries were collected. 

After the academic papers, there was a round table involving school teachers who applied public history in their work. A wide variety of experiences whose protagonists were students, teachers, families and citizens were illustrated: some investigated the school their parents and grandparents attended by oral interviews and by the collection of material such as notebooks or pictures; some worked on the comparison between contemporary textbooks and those used during the Fascism regime; some analysed gender stereotypes in education during the ’50 and ’60 through the memories of ex-students and ex-teachers in Tuscany. It is self-evident, Gianfranco Bandini argued, that the public history goes behind the traditional way of transmitting and disseminating knowledge: all subjects play an active role in the process of making history. And this process occurred in several places. Other papers in the afternoon showed another space where public history is applied: museums. For instance, Marta Brunelli (University of Macerata) described the origins and the activities of the school museum ‘Paolo and Ornella Ricca’ established in Macerata which aims to promote the public collection of historical sources and the public knowledge and discussion of them.14 Finally, as Brunelli  pointed out, the objective of all these experiences is to elaborate a ‘citizen history’.

To conclude, both studies on the history of education and care professions and experiences of public history, above all in schools, have shown how great can be the contribution of  historical knowledge to the work of all people who take care of children and adolescents. 

That contribution cannot be ignored because, as Paula Fass stated, ‘in the end, in the Western countries the commitment to caring for our children, as parents, as neighbours, as teachers, doctors and professionals, as public officials, and as strangers is an important and valuable expression of perhaps the most fundamental aspect of our social consciousness’.

About Christel Radica

Christel RadicaChristel Radica is a doctoral candidate at the University of Nottingham studying under David Laven and Elizabeth Harvey.  Her prospective dissertation is titled, “Law and Sexual Violence against Minors in Tuscany, from the ancient régime to fascism.”

About Patrizia Guarnieri

Patrizia Guarnieri graduated in Philosophy at the University of Florence, she received the Biennial Refinement in Philosophy at the University of Urbino, and spent several years of research abroad. She is currently in the Doctorate School in Historical Studies at the University of Florence and Siena, and most recently in English, she is the author of Italian Psychology and Jewish Emigration Under Fascism: From Florence to Jerusalem and New York (Palgrave, 2016).

Dr. Guarnieri has studied widely.  She was Fulbright Visiting Scholar at Harvard University, Dept. of Philosophy; C.N.R.-NATO Fellow at The Wellcome Trust Center for the History of Medicine in London; Jean Monnet Fellow and Visiting Scholar at the European University Institute. She worked in the historical projects of the Istituto del Innocenti, and of the Department of Mental Health in Florence.Patrizia Guarnieri

From 1982 to 1993 she was a lecturer at Stanford University-Overseas Program, and from 1986 he belonged to the Dept. of Psychology, and to the History of Science Program of Stanford, Ca.

Adjunct adjunct professor in the history of science in the contemporary age at the University of Trieste for three years; second-level professor in MSTO-04 unstructured in 2001 (member of the National Coordinating Unconventional Professors, Copins), from 2004 she was associate professor of contemporary history at the University of Florence, and obtained the ASN 2012 in ordinary. Until 2012, the College of the International Doctorate of Women's History and Gender Identity, with administrative headquarters at the Oriental of Naples, to which the University of Florence is a member. In the Fall of 2018 she was the M. Of Palermo McCauley Visiting Scholar at the John Calandra Institute, New York.


1. Other patronages are given by the AIPH (Italian Association of Public History), the CIRSE (Italian Center of the historical-educative research), the Istituto degli Innocenti, the Ordine Assistenti Sociali Toscana (Social workers Association), the Ordine degli Psicologi Toscana and the SINPIA (Italian Society of children and adolescents’ neuropsychiatry). 

2. Professor Fass’s most recent book is The End of American Childhood:  A History of Parenting from Life on the Frontier to the Managed Child (Princeton University Press, 2016).

3. Patrizia Guarnieri is Professor in modern history at the University of Florence. She is a founding member of the Società Italiana delle storiche (SIS), a member of the editorial board of Journal of the Society for the History of Childhood and Youth and of Clio medica (Brill) the journal of the European Association for the History of Medicine and Health. She is the author of numerous publications , among which Italian psychology and Jewish emigration under fascism. From Florence to Jerusalem and New York (New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2016),(ed.), Bambini e salute in Europa 1750-2000/Children and health in Europe ("Medicina & Storia", 2004), A case of child murder. Law and science in nineteenth-century Tuscany (Cambridge: Polity Press, Blackwell Publ, 1993). 

4. Christel Radica took her master’s degree at the University of Siena and a PhD in History at the University of Nottingham with research entitled ‘Innocence on trial: The courts and sexual violence against children in Florence, 1786 to 1914’. Among her publications: ‘‘Innocenti e «maliziose». Bambine in tribunale a Firenze nel lungo Ottocento’’, in La violenza contro le donne nella storia. Contesti, linguaggi, politiche del diritto (secoli XV-XXI), ed. S. Feci, L. Schettini (Roma: Viella, 2017), 107-123; ‘‘L’Onmi a Siena: il Comitato comunale dell’Opera Nazionale Maternità e Infanzia, 1936-1975’’, Bullettino senese di storia patria, CXVII (2010): 204-262.    

5. Elisabetta Benetti got a PhD in History at the University of Padova, Verona and Venezia with research on ‘Abnormal children and psychiatry between the two world wars’. Among herpublications are: ‘‘Entre psychiatrie et antropologie criminelle. Les Italiens au congrès de Psychiatrie infantile de Paris’’, RHEI. Revue d’histoire de l’enfance irrégulière, no. 18 (2016): 167- 183; ‘‘Da liberale a fascista: il percorso di Alberto De Stefani’’, Venetica, rivista di storia contemporanea” (2007): 45- 68. 

6. Nica La Banca is research fellow and adjunct professor in modern history at the University of Florence. She is working on a projects direct by P. Guarnieri on the historical archive of the children hospital Meyer in Florence. Among her publications, Welfare in transizione. L’esperienza dell’Onmi (Napoli: Esi, 2013), ‘‘I centri sociali nell’Italia del secondo dopoguerra. Un esperimento di democrazia di base (1954-1971)’’, in Idee e movimenti comunitari. Servizio sociale di comunità in Italia nel secondo dopoguerra, ed. E. Appetecchia (Roma: Viella, 2015). 

7. Anna Badino is research fellow and adjunct professor in modern history at the University of Florence. She too is working on the historical archive of the children hospital Meyer in Florence. She is the author of Strade in salita. Figlie e figli dell’immigrazione meridionale al Nord (Roma: Carocci, 2012) and Tutte a casa? Donne tra migrazione e lavoro nella Torino degli anni Sessanta (Roma: Viella, 2008). 

8. Clara Silva is professor in pedagogy at the university of Florence. Among her publications, Lo spazio dell'intercultura. Democrazia, diritti umani e laicità (Milano: FrancoAngeli, 2015), Intercultura e cura educativa nel nido e nella scuola dell'infanzia (Parma: Edizioni Junior, 2011). 

9. Pietro Causarano is professor in History of education at the university of Florence. Among his publications, ‘‘Dimensioni e trasformazioni della professionalità’’, in Il lavoro 4.0. La Quarta Rivoluzione industriale e le trasformazioni delle attività lavorative, ed. A. Cipriani, A. Gramolati, G. Mari (Firenze: Firenze University Press, 2018), 159-174; Combinare l'istruzione coll'educazione. Municipio, istituzioni civili ed educazione popolare a Firenze dopo l'Unità (1859-1878) (Milano: Unicopli, 2005). 

10. Luigi Tommassini is Professor in modern history and history of photography in the University of Bologna. Among his publications, ‘‘Fotografia e consumi visuali’’, in Storia d'Italia Einaudi, Annali, vol.27: I consumi in Italia (Torino: Einaudi, 2018), 595 – 620; Donne e lavoro nella fotografia agli inizi del Novecento (Roma: Agra, 2015). 

11. Gianfranco Bandini is Professor in history of pedagogy at the University of Florence. Among his publications, ‘‘Passione e competenza. Il nostro impegno per formare gli insegnanti del futuro’’, in Il tirocinio dei futuri insegnanti. Una risorsa per la formazione iniziale e le competenze professionali, ed. G. Bandini, A. Calvani, D. Capperucci (Firenze: Non Solo Libri snc, 2018), 7-11; Educare all'amore adottivo. Percorsi formativi per l'accoglienza (Pisa: EDIZIONI ETS, 2012). 

12. Emiliano Macinai is Professor in social pedagogy, and Stefano Oliviero is a researcher of history of education at the University of Florence; together are working on the publication of ‘‘Una storia dei nidi comunali in Toscana (1970-1990)’’, in La nascita degli asili nido nel comune di Piombino, ed. P. Benesperi, M. Mondello (Salamanca: FahrenHouse), 5-9.

13. Monica Ferrari is Professor in pedagogy at the University of Pavia. Her last book (with I. Lazzarini, F. Piseri) is Autografie dell’età minore. Lettere di tre dinastie italiane tra Quattrocento e Cinquecento (Roma: Viella, 2016). 

14. Marta Brunelli is professor in history of pedagogy at the university of Macerata and editorial manager of the History of Education & Children's Literature. She recently published L’educazione al patrimonio storico-scolastico. Approcci teorici, modelli e strumenti per la progettazione didattica e formativa in un museo della scuola (Milano: FrancoAngeli, 2018). 

This feature is part of the SHCY Commentary series, in which SHCY members provide written contributions on various academic topics pertaining to the history of childhood and youth. 

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