Italian@Hopkins and WGS present: The Child as Agent of Radical Change: Maria Montessori’s Years in India, a lecture by Prof. Erica Moretti.
Though the Italian educator Maria Montessori was a well-known pacifist in her day, her writings on peace have generally been considered secondary to her pedagogical work—a side intellectual project for a woman more concerned with the practical goal of educating youth.
This lecture looks at how Montessori’s work on pacifism was affected by her stay in India (1939–1949). Montessori and her son, Mario, were invited to the country by George Sidney Arundale, president of the Theosophical Society in Adyar, and his wife, Rukmini Devi, dancer and choreographer of the Indian classical dance form Bharatanatyam; Montessori and her son spent almost a decade in the country. Supported by archival sources found at the Theosophical Society Headquarters and at the Kalakshetra Dance Foundation, Moretti’s talk explores Montessori’s notion of the erdkinder (children of the Earth) to show how the educator formulated new educational and institutional policies to connect the child and the environment. According to Montessori, a global approach to early-childhood education was necessary; furthermore, she emphasized the importance of teaching children about ecology, in order to instill a respect for nature. This would lead children to understand that they belonged to a fragile, planet-wide ecosystem, emphasizing their connection to the human species, and to the Earth itself. Montessori referred to this as a “cosmic education,” in that it would bestow a cosmic purpose, with meaning beyond consumption and procreation. The Italian educator elaborated this concept while working in close collaboration with Rukmini Devi, champion of India’s independence and women’s emancipation.
Erica Moretti is Assistant Professor of Italian at the Fashion Institute of Technology-SUNY. She received a Ph.D. in Italian Studies from Brown University and a diploma in American Studies from Smith College. With Sharon Wood, she published a collection of essays on British-Italian writer Annie Chartres Vivanti. She has published essays on assimilation policies in the United States in the Progressive era (History of Education), the Italian feminist movement (Italian Culture), and Italian colonialism and biopolitics (in the volume Colonialismo e identità nazionale), among other topics. She is currently working on a book project that explores changes in pacifist thought in the first half of twentieth century in Europe through the work of the Italian educator Maria Montessori. Her research interests include modern Italian intellectual and social history, biopolitics, gender studies, modern and contemporary Italian literature, and Italian colonialism.