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Acta Scientiarum. Education

versión impresa ISSN 2178-5198versión On-line ISSN 2178-5201

Acta Educ. vol.41  Maringá ene. 2019  Epub 01-Mayo-2019 


Reading books and the construction of a national identity of Italian and Italian descendant children (São Paulo in the early 20th century)

1Universidade Federal de São Paulo, Estrada do Caminho Velho, 333, Jardim Nova Cidade, 07252-312, Guarulhos, São Paulo, Brasil.


By the end of 19th century, foreign immigrants started to play an increasingly relevant role in the history of Sao Paulo. This text aims to investigate the civility operations printed in and imposed by reading books that have reached expressive circulation in Italian ethnical schools and in São Paulo primary schools which immigrants and/or their children attended, between late 19th and early 20th centuries. From a theoretical-methodological approach from cultural history, we take, as privileged sources, the ‘Graduate series by Puiggari-Barreto’ and the reading book Piccolo mondo. Procedures, tools, sources and guidelines for analysis were defined based on the conceptual corpus as conceived by Norbert Elias, for we are interested in examining practices and processes of modelling children subjects who were living the social time of childhood, through which mental and psychic settings are instituted and in which cognition, feelings, attitudes, behaviors and values are not likely to be abstract. In their books, authors express a civilization project in which citizenship, love for the homeland and the acknowledgment of heroes, values, language, great deeds, monuments and landscapes have become prominent. Authors have claimed, in books produced in both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, hallmarks of a national identity they longed for.

Keywords: Italian immigration; ethnical schools; Sao Paulo primary school; reading books; Sao Paulo


A partir do último quartel do século XIX o imigrante estrangeiro passou a desempenhar um papel cada vez mais relevante na história de São Paulo. O presente texto tem por objetivo investigar as operações de civilidade impressas e impostas nos livros de leitura que alcançaram circulação expressiva nas escolas étnicas italianas e nas escolas primárias paulistas frequentadas pelos imigrantes e/ou seus filhos, entre o final do século XIX e o início do século XX. A partir da perspectiva teórico-metodológica da história cultural toma-se como fonte privilegiada a ‘Série graduada de Puiggari-Barreto’ e o livro de leitura Piccolo mondo. Com base no corpus conceitual constituído por Norbert Elias, os procedimentos, os instrumentos, as fontes e as direções de análise foram definidas, uma vez que interessa examinar práticas e processos de modelação dos sujeitos crianças que viviam o tempo social da infância, pelos quais se constituem como configurações mentais ou psíquicas, e nos quais cognição, sentimento, atitude, comportamento, valor, não são passíveis de abstração. Os autores expressaram em seus livros um projeto civilizatório, em que a formação do cidadão, o amor à pátria, o reconhecimento e a valorização dos heróis, dos valores, da língua, dos grandes feitos, dos monumentos e das paisagens ganharam proeminência. Os autores reivindicaram em seus livros de leitura, produzidos nos dois lados do oceano Atlântico as marcas de uma identidade nacional almejada.

Palavras-chave: imigração italiana; escolas étnicas; escola primária paulista; livros de leitura; São Paulo


A partir del último cuartel del siglo XIX el inmigrante extranjero pasó a desempeñar un papel cada vez más relevante en la historia de San Pablo. El presente texto tiene por objetivo investigar las operaciones de civilidad impresas e impuestas en los libros de lectura que alcanzaron circulación expresiva en las escuelas étnicas italianas y en las escuelas primarias paulistas frecuentadas por los inmigrantes y / o sus hijos, entre el final del siglo XIX y el inicio del siglo XX. A partir de la perspectiva teórico-metodológica de la historia cultural se toma como fuente privilegiada la ‘Serie graduada de Puiggari-Barreto’ y el libro de lectura Piccolo mondo. Con base en el corpus conceptual constituido por Norbert Elias, los procedimientos, los instrumentos, las fuentes y las direcciones de análisis fueron definidas, ya que interesa examinar prácticas y procesos de modelación de los sujetos niños que vivían el tiempo social de la infancia, por los cuales se constituyen como configuraciones mentales o psíquicas, y en los cuales cognición, sentimiento, actitud, comportamiento, valor, no son pasibles de abstracción. Los autores expresaron en sus libros un proyecto civilizatorio, en el que la formación del ciudadano, el amor a la patria, el reconocimiento y la valorización de los héroes, de los valores, de la lengua, de los grandes hechos, de los monumentos y de los paisajes ganaron prominencia. Los autores reivindicaron en sus libros de lectura, producidos a ambos lados del océano Atlántico las marcas de una identidad nacional anhelada.

Palabras-clave: inmigración italiana; escuelas étnicas; escuela primaria paulista; libros de lectura; São Paulo


From the late 19th century on, foreign immigrants have started playing an increasingly relevant role in the history of Sao Paulo. There were several reasons for what has become known as the Great Italian Emigration, which happened between the mark dates of Italian unification (1861) and the end of World War I (1918), gaining contours by the end of the 1870s and becoming a mass phenomenon between 1887 and 1902.12 Trento (1988, 2009) and Cenni (2003) point out misery as the main reason.

According to Alvim (2000), Italian emigration was an important phenomenon for socioeconomic balance, as it relieved the pressure and reclamations on cities and the yet infant industry, but also because expats sent money to their relatives and that minimally contributed, in a certain way, to keep away or postpone a social rebellion.

On the other side of the Atlantic, there were also objective conditions favoring immigration. The strengthening and the expansion of capitalism determined the transference of capitals to Brazil and that created a need for more workforce, as well as the transformation of slave into free workforce, especially in coffee crops. In addition to low demographic density and to the existence of more accessible job markets, there were ideological factors that saw the white contingent - preferably European - as useful for carrying out a whitening process of Brazilians.

Especially in Sao Paulo, the accelerate growth of the coffee economy has generated capital for its unfoldings, such as the expansion of railways, industries and urbanization, as well as subsidizing immigration. All that, along with the abolition of slavery in 1888 and the installation of a new republican political regime, has created important conditions for large-scale immigration.

By late 19th and early 20th centuries, Sao Paulo was one of the world’s main cities of immigration. Between 1880 and 1925, 3,396,366 immigrants have entered Brazil, among which there were 1,331,158 Italians, that means, more than 39% of the total of immigrants. According to Hall (2004), out of the 4.8 million people who came to Brazil between 1820 and 1949, more than half have entered in the state of Sao Paulo and were taken mostly to the coffee farms, or to the colonies in the South and Southeast of the country.

In the capital of Sao Paulo, many worked as “[...] shoeshines, street newsmen, water vendors, umbrella fixers, sharpeners, but also as carriers, barbers, waiters, seamstresses, drivers, shoemakers and others” (Trento, 2000, p. 80). Italian presence was also expressive in factories13, making a great population of workers, of more than 60% of the total of people working, between 1900 and 1915. Working conditions for immigrants were the same as for Brazilians and very similar to the ones of the early years of Industrial Revolution in European countries, between the 18th and 19th centuries, as described by Trento (2000, p. 82, our translation): “[...] endless working hours, arbitrary dismissals, payment for piece, rigid discipline, low salaries and major use of workforce of women and children with inferior paying in comparison to adult men.”

Many have dedicated to open their own shops of shoes, woodworks, cleaner, bricks, foundry, clothing and hats, factories of pasta, oils, writing paints and others, with almost exclusively family workforce. To fare l’America, a widely used expression among Italian immigrants, there was, according to Petrone (1990, p. 607-608, our translation) “[...] an almost religious value of work, in a pragmatic posture stimulated by immediatist needs.” Many families gave school a very low value, whereas others, even though wishing their children studied, did not have material conditions for such. However, there was a group that has faced hard sacrifices for their children to study, especially in an Italian school, or in Sao Paulo primary schools.

This text aims to investigate the civilization operations that were printed in and imposed by reading books that have reached expressive circulation in Italian ethnical schools and in São Paulo primary schools to which immigrants and/or their children attended, between late 19th and early 20th centuries. From a theoretical-methodological approach from cultural history, we take, as privileged sources, the ‘Graduate series by Puiggari-Barreto’ and the reading book Piccolo mondo.

Reading books can be taken as cultural tools that establish links and bonds between mental structures and social figurations, or, as Elias (1994) puts it, between psychogenesis and sociogenesis. Following Elias (2001), we intend to investigate the arts of civility promoted in these reading books of great circulation, through an analysis of how civility is present in the corpus of the books, bringing to children’s daily lives moral virtues and standards of conduct.

For Elias, ‘civilized’ is the individual whose behavior was transformed, molded, conditioned, to acquire new habits, new behaviors, that are impregnated as a ‘second nature’. ‘Civilization’, then, is a long process of transformation of the Western man’s behavior. Elias (1994, p. 95, our translation) states that it is “[…] what we are looking for - that means, the standard of habits and behaviors to which society, at a given time, searched to inure the individual.”

Procedures, tools, sources and guidelines for analysis were defined based on the conceptual corpus as conceived by Norbert Elias, for we are interested in examining practices and processes of modelling children subjects who were living the social time of childhood, through which mental and psychic settings are instituted and in which cognition, feelings, attitudes, behaviors and values are not likely to be abstract.

This text is organized into three main topics, namely: the Sao Paulo civilization project and the ‘Graduate Series by Puiggari˗Barreto’; Piccolo mondo and the reading for Italian ethnical schools; and finally, some considerations on the construction of national identities through readings.

The Sao Paulo civilization project and the ‘Graduate Series by Puiggari˗Barreto’

Due to many financial difficulties that generated precarious life conditions, many Italian families did not enroll their children for school. Some got to do it in Italian ethnical schools and many others, in Sao Paulo public schools. Probably, Italian children and descendants studied at schools in the neighborhoods where they lived, thus, mainly in Bras, Bom Retiro, Downtown and Bexiga and also in Barra Funda and Lapa. Then, in the period between wars, with social mobility, in Vila Mariana, Consolaçao and Perdizes.

In the Sao Paulo State Teaching Year Directory (São Paulo, 1907, 1913), data allow some inferences about the schools attended. In Table 1, there are the data of the school groups of the capital Sao Paulo that were working between 1894 (when the first one was installed) and 1913. Except for the Penha School Group, there are information about the installation dates of each one of them. Only in the Directory of 1913 there is information on the origins of the students’ parents, an important data to consider that many children were born here and thus enrolled as Brazilians, even though their parents and siblings spoke some Italian peninsula dialect (most did not speak Italian).

There was a great concentration of School Groups in the central region of the Sao Paulo capital, especially in Se, Bela Vista and Bras. In Se, there were the School Groups of Braz (first), Carmo, Prudente de Moraes, S. Joao, Santa Iphigênia and Sul da Sé, with an expressive presence of foreign parents in all of them, being the majority in the last two. In Bela Vista, there were five School Groups: Avenida, Bella Vista, Maria José, Santo Antonio e Villa Marianna (in the border with the Vila Mariana neighborhood). The presence of foreign parents was expressive in all of them. In Bras, for School Groups were created: Belemzinho, Bras (second), Bras (third), in which the number of foreign parents was higher than the one of Brazilians, and Pary with an almost equal number of foreign and Brazilian parents.

In other neighborhoods of the central zone in Sao Paulo, the presence of immigrants was remarkable too. So, in Santa Cecilia, there were the School Groups Triumpho and Barra Funda (in the border with Barra Funda neighborhood); in Liberdade, there were the School Groups Cambucy (in the border with Cambucy neighborhood) and Liberdade; in Republica, there were the School Groups Consolaçao and Arouche. At Triumpho and Consolaçao, the presence of foreign parents was quite close to Brazilians and at Arouche and Liberdade, the presence of foreign parents was higher.

In neighborhoods that were further from the city centre, like Lapa, Mooca and Santana, School Groups were created under the neighborhoods’ names. Finally, we must highlight Bom Retiro, the neighborhood that was established as a working class one, with strong immigrant presence, especially Italian, between the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, such statement does not echo in what concerns the presence of foreign parents or children, compared to the other School Groups in the city.

Table 1 School groups in Sao Paulo city between 1894 and 1913.  

School groups Address Installation year Brazilians enrolled Foreigners enrolled Parents in 1912
1907 1912 1907 1912 Brazilians Foreigners
Avenida Avenida Paulista, 100 26/03/1909 -- 538 -- 53 476 115
Triumpho Alameda Triumph s/n; Alameda Cleveland, 19 (1913) 03/09/1900 384 499 20 13 279 233
Arouche Praça Alexandre Herculano, 24 01/07/1905 527 994 28 55 402 647
Barra Funda Rua Victorino Camillo,153 10/03/1903 340 1540 16 47 1006 581
Belemzinho Av. Celso Garcia, 260 02/02/1909 -- 417 -- 30 328 119
Bella- Vista Rua Major Diogo, 14 04/07/1900 367 888 9 44 680 252
Bom Retiro Rua Italianos, 80 02/02/1909 -- 448 -- 24 418 54
Braz (primeiro) Av. Rangel Pestana, 142 15/08/1898 648 1122 25 61 867 316
Braz (segundo) Rua Almirante Barros, 3 04/11/1896 376 905 20 89 806 188
Braz (terceiro) Av da Intendência / Av. Celso Garcia, 16(from 1913) 11/08/1898 422 879 13 27 341 565
Cambucy Rua Lavapés, 297 01/02/1908 365 715 22 96 683 128
Carmo Rua Carmo, 16 10/08/1894 422 926 21 73 720 279
Consolação Rua Consolação, 178 16/01/1911 -- 614 -- 33 344 303
Lapa Rua 18, s/n 08/02/1909 -- 407 -- 21 332 96
Liberdade Rua Glória, 106 01/05/1905 405 866 18 71 394 560
Maria José Rua Manoel Dutra, 47 11/04/1896 384 877 17 51 721 207
Moóca Rua Moóca, 373 25/09/1906 373 1021 28 67 859 229
Pary Rua. D. Elisa Withaker, 1 13/03/1905 473 1007 26 153 585 575
Penha s/d -- 317 -- 5 119 203
Prudente de Moraes Av. Tiradentes, 3 25/03/1895 431 1070 14 76 759 387
Sant’ Anna Rua Voluntários da Pátria, 425 17/05/1909 -- 535 -- 55 372 218
Santa Iphigenia Alameda Andradas 16/03/1896 269 437 15 15 220 232
Santo Antonio Rua Santo Antônio, 77 01/06/1908 -- 438 -- 25 371 92
S. João Rua São João, 182 04/03/1907 284 557 8 26 354 229
Sul da Sé Rua Santa Thereza,22 05/02/1896 334 612 7 24 301 335
Villa Marianna Rua Vergueiro, 268 01/09/1909 -- 642 -- 58 452 248

Source: São Paulo (1907, 1913); Brasil (2018).

Among the books authorized to be adopted in School Groups, there was the ‘Graduate Series’ by Romao Puiggari and Arnaldo de Oliveira Barreto. In the Year Directory of 1907, is the approval for the First reading book and the Third reading book of the ‘Puiggari˗Barreto Series’. In the Year Directory published in 1913, there is the following indication: “We are supporters of the books of the first and second categories, being some for expressive or current reading and the other for the so-called additional reading. Amongst the ones of the first category, there is, for example, the Puiggari-Barreto Series.” (São Paulo, 1913, p. XVII, our translation).

The ‘Graduate Series by Puiggari˗Barreto’14 was published by Francisco Alves Publishing House. According to Razzini (2004), the Alves & Comp. enterprise became successful in the 1890s, with more than 100 titles included in their catalog, publishing, for the first time, authors who worked with teaching in Sao Paulo, like Romão Puiggari, who published Cousas brasileiras (1895) and Album de gravuras (1898).

The copies that became sources of study in this text are: First book - 37th edition, 1931; Second book - 36th edition, 1934; Third book - 7th edition, 1911; Fourth book - [?] edition, 1909. The image on the cover is the same for every book, with the characters of the stories in the books: Paulo (the main character), Luizinha, Donato and Uncle Jose. Children are sitting around the uncle and attentive to the book that he holds open, sitting in his chair, with a shelf fool of books in the back. It is important to elucidate that there are many other editions without illustrations, presenting, on the cover, the name of the series, the title of the book, the editor and a note that explains: “Awarded with a silver medal in the Universal Expo in Saint Louis, USA” (Puiggari & Barreto, 1927, s/p). On the back cover, the books in the Francisco Alves Bookstore’s catalogue are presented, with prices.

The series is composed of four books. The First reading book and the Second reading book were released in 1903. The Third reading book and the Fourth reading book were probably released between 1903 and 1904, as they are included in the Inventory of school goods.15 In the 1910s, the series was already quite well known and appreciated. According to Pfromm, Rosamilha and Dib (1974), in 1904 the series received a silver medal at the Universal Expo that happened in Saint Louis, in the United States. In 1912, the series became mandatory for the Schools for Mariners Training, regulated by the Decree n. 9.386, in February that year. (Regina & Panizzolo, 2016)

The books of the series, as already pointed out in the works by Belo and Panizzolo (2014) and Panizzolo and Belo (2016), were inspired in the Italian book Cuore, by Edmundo de Amicis, and their characteristics is that they are not divided into lessons, but in ‘chapters’ or short stories, by a boy called Paulo. The story begins when the boy is about to start primary school and finishes as he gets to the end of the first cycle of his primary instruction, in fourth year. Each book in the series follows Paulo in a school year. In addition to the facts that occur at the school, the books approach the boy’s daily life with his family, friends, neighbors etc.

According to Oliveira (2004), Belo (2013) and Regina (2017) the ‘Puiggari˗Barreto Series’ is an expression of the formation literature model. The reading books privilege moral, civic and patriotic lessons, and also lessons of conduct, hygiene etc. This way, it is notable that school starts to be seen as proper means of promoting republican values, highlighting the importance of modernizing the country and valuing work as a necessary tool to build citizenship.

Puiggari and Barreto (1911) have dedicated many short stories to the hygiene of the body and the house and stated that for a person to be appreciated, it was not enough to be active and honored, it was “mister to be clean, very clean, for poverty is no excuse for the lack of cleanliness, as this is no privilege of anyone; but rather a moral obligation that no man, rich or poor, can forget.” (Puiggari & Barreto, 1911, p. 34, our translation) An example is the one reported by Mauricio, who was ashamed by the fact that the teacher would check out “[…] the hair, nails, ears, teeth and neck of the boys” (Puiggari & Barreto, 1911, p. 29, our translation) and warned him, for he had not cut his nails. However, Mauricio was not the only one to be warned by the teacher. There was also a situation with Jose da Silva, who “[…] never comes clean to school. Today, then, he appeared so dirty that the master had to order someone to go get a bowl with water and wash his face, neck and ears.” (Puiggari & Barreto, 1911, p. 29, our translation).

In addition to hygiene, Puiggari and Barreto (1934) taught about healthcare. In a visit to the nephew Paulo, who was sick in bed and had missed school, uncle Jose stated that “[…] one of our obligations is to take care of our health and make everything possible to become tough and strong […]” and for that, parsimony and prudence were fundamental: “Eating too much is always harmful. Drinking too much, even more; besides ruining one’s stomach, it turns man into an animal, unconscious and disgusting.” (Puiggari & Barreto, 1934, p. 113, our translation).

Puiggari and Barreto (1934) have also prescribed the construction of houses aiming at hygiene, lighting, ventilation and cleanliness. For that, for example, they use the story of the house built by Mr. Anselmo, Alvaro’s father. The house is presented as having all the rooms needed and “[…] hygiene precepts have not been forgotten. In the space between the floor and the ground, air circulated freely; there were no rooms without windows and walls were whitened and ornated with simple painting.” (Puiggari & Barreto, 1934, p. 91, our translation).

The series also dedicates to teaching Botany and Zoology. The boys Donato and Paulo have taken on the role of teaching Ricardo, the family gardener, to read: “Donato taught to read and count. Paulo explained the lessons of botany and zoology, as he was learning them at school.” (Puiggari & Barreto, 1934, p. 105, our translation). So, there are many stories regarding these themes.

Subjects concerning the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms are presented to little readers in a way to favor a practical application of their studies. For example, as Luiza gets home, she tries to relate the teacher’s lessons to her favorite doll, Zilda, but could not find an answer, so she asked Vitor, who explained that the doll belonged to the three kingdoms. Her face is made of porcelain, “[…] porcelain is made of kaolin, that is a mineral.” The hair is made of silk, “[…] considering the hair, she belongs to the animal kingdom, as silk is produced by an animal called silkworm […]” and he concludes explaining that a small piece of wood that served as “[…] support for Zilda’s chest, was made of pine, that comes from the pine tree, which produces the pine nuts you like so much […]” (Puiggari & Barreto, 1931, p. 84-87, our translation), thus, Zilda belongs to the three kingdoms.

The ‘Series’ also privileged the History of Brazil. Amongst many lessons, one that Alvaro wrote in his notebook approached the many gold and diamond mines that there was in Brazil’s sertao regions. Searching for gold and diamonds, Puiggari and Barreto (1931) present the bandeirantes as brave and persevering pioneers who fought against indigenous people and wild animals and won most of the fights. They also describe and intense search and concurrence for exploring mines, which generated serious controversies and conflicts between paulistas and Portuguese, in a dispute for ore, called Emboabas War: “The Portuguese settlers also imitated paulistas in the gold exploitation. Paulistas did not like the Portuguese and because of that, to ridicule them, called them emboabas” (Puiggari & Barreto, 1931, p. 142, our translation).

The reading books of the Puiggari˗Barreto Series searched to form the children who, in the future, would turn into men and make the country’s progress. There is no space for abstention, instead, authors carry on and out a civilizing project through reading. In the lessons, there are always statements that express which are the attributes of a polite and good citizen, such as: “[…] a man’s happiness only depends on himself, that means, of his courage and love for the work; of the correct and honest way in which he acts in society; of his tenacity, strength and will power” (Puiggari & Barreto, 1909, p. 13, our translation). The citizen they refer to herein is the one who values labor and is always persevering, kindness, polite and useful. “Kindness comes from politeness, one never regrets being polite” (Puiggari & Barreto, 1909, p. 13, our translation), says uncle Jose to Paulo.

Piccolo mondo and the reading for Italian ethnical schools16

From the late 19th century to the first three decades of the 20th century, it is possible to find evidence of the distribution and circulation of Italian books among immigrants and their descendants. (Luchese, 2014; Panizzolo, 2016a, 2016b). In Italy, from 1880 on, several pedagogical conferences were organized by the Ministry of Instruction, to discuss teaching books, which, in 1871, were more than two thousand, a number that would double in ten years. In 1890, the Minister of Public Instruction, Paolo Boselli, stated that the situation of publishing for schools was a true anarchy17 and that he wished to organize that entanglement of publications.18 (Chiosso, 2007, p. 8).

One of these many books produced in Italy for Italian schools abroad is Piccolo Mondo, letture per le scuole elementari, for both male and female schools. Studies by Panizzolo (2016a, 2016b) point out that the series is composed of syllabary; complement to syllabary; first reading book; second reading book; third reading book; fourth reading book; and fifth reading book, all by authors Fanny Romagnoli, a teacher, member of the Bologna’s Teachers Society, and Silvia Albertoni (about whom information has not yet been found). It was published by the important Fiorentino publishing house Bemporad, which alongside with Mondadori Publishing House, had the highest number of books approved by the Ministry. (Galfré, 2005)

Piccolo mondo was approved to be adopted at schools in the Italian Peninsula and Italian schools abroad. According to Barausse (2008), the Ministry Circular number 75 on September 24th, 1900, approved the complement to syllabary book, highlighting its illustrations. In 1905, the books were also indicated for specific provinces, as seen on Table 2:

Table 2 Books of the series Piccolo mondo approved by Ministry Circular n. 18 on 1/03/1905.  

Region Materials adopted
Palermo, Genova, Ascoli- Piceno, Arezzo, Pisa, Como, Parma, Firenze, Catania Piccolo Mondo - Sillabary Piccolo Mondo - Complement to sillabary Piccolo Mondo - For 2nd grade Piccolo Mondo - For 3rd grade Piccolo Mondo - For 4th grade Piccolo Mondo - For 5th grade
Venezia Piccolo Mondo - Sillabary Piccolo Mondo - Complement to sillabary Piccolo Mondo - For 2nd grade Piccolo Mondo - For 4th grade Piccolo Mondo - For 5th grade
Caserta Piccolo Mondo - Sillabary Piccolo Mondo - Complement to sillabary Piccolo Mondo - For 2nd grade Piccolo Mondo - For 3rd grade
Reggio Calabria Piccolo Mondo - Sillabary Piccolo Mondo - Complement to sillabary
Massa-Carrara Siracusa Piccolo Mondo - Sillabary Piccolo Mondo - Complement to sillabary
Cuneo Piccolo Mondo - Complement to sillabary Piccolo Mondo - For 2nd grade Piccolo Mondo - For 3rd grade
Potenza Piacenza Pesaro-Urbino
Chieti Ancona Piccolo Mondo - Sillabary Piccolo Mondo - For 2nd grade Piccolo Mondo - For 3rd grade Piccolo Mondo - For 4th grade Piccolo Mondo - For 5th grade
Cremona Piccolo Mondo - Sillabary
Lecce Piccolo Mondo - Complement to sillabary Piccolo Mondo - For 2nd grade Piccolo Mondo - For 4th grade Piccolo Mondo - For 5th grade

Source: Table built by the author, after Barause (2008).

The copy that is object of study in this article dates from 1910 and refers to the volume indicated for teaching boys and girls in fourth grade. The book, with a small format (10 cm of width and 17 cm high), is composed of 311 pages, over which 156 short stories and poems are distributed and of which more than one third is illustrated. Texts are mostly produced by the authors, but there are excerpts taken from other Italian authors. Piccolo Mondo’s central core is the Rosati family: the father, Mister Rosati, railway engineer; the mother, Mrs. Clotilde, an educated woman who provides education to her children; and the three children, Alberto, 13; Isabella, 11; and Giorgio, 9. Stories develop around the family, relationships between father, mother and children; and in the scope of socialization that its members take part on, the school and the circle of friends. A smaller part of the texts can be considered as single, not linked to the universe described above.

Piccolo Mondo shows concerns with scientific teaching and the appreciation of Natural Sciences. In the short stories, we find themes such as hygiene, health, children and adult deaths, nutrition, medicines, vaccines and plants. An example is the story of Giacinta, a girl presented as having modest conditions, but miserable appearance: “[…] even Giacinta’s figure looked poor regarding cleansing: her little face, that could be very pretty, was disfigured in a forest of messy hair; the whiteness of her skin was marked by dirt…” (Romagnoli & Albertoni, 1910, p. 12, our translation).

Through descriptive texts that aim to provide the reader with basic notions, nature is presented harmoniously organized and classified, with an eminently practical functioning. Some examples are the tales about big and small elements of the vegetable world, specific types of plants and also the plants of gardens and woods.

There are short stories regarding Geography, so that the authors continue to teach Natural Sciences, through contents that approach several environment aspects. Texts provide little readers with some simple notions, especially about water and its different forms. Students are also taught to respect and value the seasons of the year and their respective weather and temperatures, in addition to the different types of relief and the land cultivation. In what concerns the contents that privilege man, Piccolo Mondo describes human experiences such as hunt, fishing, agricultural and industrial work and inventions such as the train and the ship.

Regarding contents that privilege living in society, the authors present a report about the 1898 Expo, that happened in Turin, to explain the different human races: Caucasian, Aethiopian, Yellow, American and Malay. For that, they categorize19 human beings by highlighting observable physical traits in children, using adjectives such as beautiful, ugly, thick, straight, curly, and introducing for the readers a true hierarchy among human beings, as we can read below:

The children of the Holy Land, the arabs and the girls in Upper Egypt, with their almost white skin, a regular profile, beautiful eyes, looked a lot like the European kind and as a matter of fact, they also belonged to the Caucasian race; while the little attractions were the perfect kind of the black or Aethiopian race: thick lips, flat nose, curly hair that looked like wool: they were indeed ugly […] The yellow race was represented by Chinese boys, with an astute appearance and not very ugly, but the older ones did not inspire much sympathy, with their yellowish skin stretched over protruding cheekbones, oblique eyes and a strange expression and those black straight hair tied in ponytails [...] Some representative of the American or red race coming from the Land of Fire in Southern South America came to the Expo […] I did not see any representation of the Malay race and I think there wasn’t any indeed20 (Romagnoli & Albertoni, 1910, p. 42-45, our translation).

Still in this same text, the homecountries of the children are presented as demi- or completely barbarians, however, they were saved by Italian missionaries, that released them from slavery or orphanage: “[…] some could teach the accent to many children born and raised under the beautiful sun of Italy” (Romagnoli & Albertoni, 1910, p. 46, our translation).

These texts about life in society allow to understand how a social reality is built and thought of from social representations determined by interests of the groups that create them, thus, they are not neutral, quite the opposite, they are conducted by strategies that aim to legitimize their discourses. Chartier (1994) defines them as a set of “[...] collective representations that incorporate in individuals the divisions of the social world, and structure schemes of perception and appreciation from which they classify, judge and act” (p. 104, our translation).

The teaching of History, and especially the History of the Motherland, is highlighted in the pages of Piccolo Mondo, as it was probably considered by the intellectual elite who planned education in Italy as a fundamental subject for the recently unified nation and for the construction of the Italian people’s patriotism and nationalism (inside and outside of Italy). It offers to the reader a trip around the country through descriptions and images of Italy’s most important places and monuments: the Del Farneto in Bologna; channels and gondolas, the Scala dei Giganti, the Bridge of Sighs, the Rialto Bridge, the churches of Our Lady of Deliverance, of San Giovanni and Paolo, the St. Mark’s Basilica, the Watch Tower, in Venice; the Piazza dell’erbe and the Santa Maria in Organo Church in Verona; the Dome dedicated to San Ciriaco, the Saint Francis and Saint Augustine Church, the streets and squares of Ancona; the Via Nazionale, the Via Roma, the Vesuvius in Naples; the Etna in Catania; the Roman Forum, the Arch of Titus, the Arch of Constantine, the Trajan’s Forum, the St. Peter’s Basilica, the St. Peter’s Square and the Vatican, the Fontana dell’acqua Paola in Rome etc.

Along the stories, national heroes are also presented, in order to unify the country through the construction of an idealized image, a representation that aims to congregate several spaces and times and, above all, to unite the people of different regions of the peninsula, just like the Risorgimento dreamed. The description of virtues, as well as images, of King Umberto I, Queen Margherita, King Vittorio Emanuele III and Garibaldi are present in Piccolo Mondo.

The reading book was the only one used at Brazilian primary school, both for reading and for teaching Moral, Civility and History of the Homeland, and maybe the same happened in Italian schools in Brazil. One learned to read by reading a certain standard of conduct and one learned to love the homecountry by reading short stories, biographic notes and then excerpts about important historical episodes that contributed to form such love.

The reading book had the challenge of building, in a recently unified Italy, the idea of the Homeland as a place where people identify for their origin, habits, language and especially by the aggregating and unifying feeling of a Motherland, that welcomes everyone and thus creates a common identity. In this sense, the emigration theme, that was so present in the Italian social reality, was also present in Piccolo Mondo. Emigrants are introduced as those who were basically constrained to abandon their homecountry to pursue survival and work, to make a living in a foreign land: “[...] they have left what they cared the most for in the world: their homeland, their house, their old parents, the church, the cemetery where their dear relatives live. They have left everything and soon they will also say goodbye to Italy” (Romagnoli & Albertoni, 1910, p. 234, [our translation).

From the short stories in Piccolo Mondo emerge rules for social living and standards for individual and collective conducts that were considered at the time as pillars of a ‘modern’ society, so the authors intended to, instead of describing society, transform it. In this sense, childhood and children are seen as idyllic, revealing an image that is more desired than true, of a child that is strong, studies hard, is adapted to the family environment, attends school, follows rules, is well-behaved and clean.

Some considerations about the construction of national identities through reading

Puiggari, Barreto, Romagnoli and Albertoni have been very attentitve, through their short stories, to the disciplining of children’s hearts and souls. They tried to teach everyone a civility code, through the coercion of bodies and the imposition of rules for social behavior.

Stories and lessons are, then, treated as “[…] direct tools for conditioning or modeling, to adapt individuals to these behavior modes, made necessary by the structure and situation of the society in which they live” (Elias, 1994, p. 95, our translation). Usual and shared behaviors, in public situations, are replaced by new ones; those become aversive, disgusting, condemnable, in a word, ‘primitive’ and these become necessary, because they are correct, proper, in a word, ‘civilized’. To those gradually abandoned behaviors, states Elias (1994, p. 80), correspond “[...] a standard of human relationships and a structure of feelings”; to the newly acquired behaviors, correspond a new standard of relationships and another structure of feelings. Finally, they concern another cognitive standard and another cognitive structure.

It is part of the civilizing project, not only a gradual change of behaviors through a gradual change of external control; in the long term, the imperative of control over behavior takes its weight from the group to the individual, who becomes the main police of his own behavior. (Elias, 1994) That is the most powerful tool of behavioral change from which the modern Western man emerge and which the four authors use so much in their lessons.

In this process of building civility, obedience must be learned and apprehended through self-control, which disciplines will. According to Leao (2007, p. 64, our translation) the act of reading itself can be considered “[...] a permanent exercise of self-control”. In this sense, learning to read the texts, lessons and short stories in the reading books, children would enter a certain social learning, of mastering their emotions.

The civility models presented in the reading books that have circulated in Italian ethnical schools and in Sao Paulo public schools between the late 19th and the early 20th century have promoted the arts of well driving oneself at home, school, in the street, church, or so to say, in society. A good reading of those, through fluid, current, expressive, chained reading, already implied mastering emotions more and more, leading to a transformation, always in a sense of a greater control and restrictions.

The authors of the ‘Graduate Series by Puiggari˗Barreto’ and of Piccolo Mondo present an idealized childhood, with a constant concern of promoting an image of a child that is brave, sincere, respectful, loving and especially good, obedient and dignified. New habits are then slowly imposed to children, forcing them to repress their impulsive, vandal, weak and vengeful desires, replacing them with prudence, goodness and sincerity, as well as they are distanced from laziness and stimulated to work. Authors have systematically invested so that children who read their series reached a level of control of their emotions and formed certain standards of shame, moderation and prudence that qualified them for social life.

The study of these reading books for primary or elementary school indicates lots of similarities between them, such as the recurrence of themes related to History, Natural Science and Hygiene, in addition to inculcating moral conducts and values, through a representation of an idealized childhood and of children who are virtuous, obedient, follow rules and precepts considered adequate at the time, ultimately, of civilized children. But what do the Brazilian and Italian productions present of specific and divergent?

It seems that the teaching of Natural Science and Hygiene are common. But there are specificities regarding the teaching of language and History. The book Piccolo Mondo express a concern of those who defended the creation of an Italianity, through press, institutions, associations of Italian immigrants and above all, Italian school. To achieve the purpose of forming the soul, the character and the faith of children and teenagers, Italian school should maintain and improve Italian ethnical characteristics, preserving close ties to the mother land, by teaching Italian language and studying history.

Over here, the same subjects were claimed, but addressed to Brazil and to Portuguese language. In the Sao Paulo State Teaching Year Directory of 1907, Inspector Miguel Carneiro Junior presented Italian schools as “[…] truly pernicious for us, as they transform into Italian citizens the Brazilian children that attend them” (São Paulo, 1907, p. 397). In the same Directory, Inspector João Lourenço Rodrigues argued in the same direction:

In these conditions, such schools will be truly pernicious in their effects, as they prepare, from Brazilian born children, a future generation of Italians who will be, in face of our laws, Brazilian citizens, who will have to share national life with us, who will one day be called to play a role in our political and economic organization. (São Paulo, 1907, p. 43, our translation).

The Puiggari˗Barreto books, approved and adopted in Sao Paulo primary schools, would satisfy those pleas, printing, in their pages, short stories in the mother language, as well as lessons that extolled the History, with its figures, names and deeds.

Piccolo mondo offers, along its books, the basic lessons of reading, writing and History, but also elements of patriotism, above all the responsibility of ‘Italianizing’ those who came here from a recently unified Italy, precisely through reading books.

The Puiggari˗Barreto Series, by valuing and teaching those same lessons, searches to form the Brazilian citizen, but does that from a Sao Paulo model, with paulista values, heroes, monuments, like the emblematic excerpt about the bandeirantes mentioned above. One can state that, in this movement, as well as internally, specifically in Sao Paulo, there is a wish of ‘paulistanizing’ those who came here, recognized as foreigners and named as Italians, beyond the border of the Sao Paulo state, there is an intention of ‘paulistanizing’ Brazilians. (Panizzolo, 2013)

Romagnoli, Albertoni, Puiggari and Barreto have expressed, in their books, a civilization process in which the formation of the citizen, the love for the homeland, the acknowledgement and the valorization of heroes, values, language, great deeds, monuments and landscapes gained prominence. Authors have claimed, in books produced in both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, hallmarks of a national identity they longed for.


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Received: November 21, 2018; Accepted: February 02, 2019

Claudia Panizzolo: Degree in Pedagogy at the University of Sao Paulo (1991), Postgraduation in Children’s Education at the Methodist University of Sao Paulo (1998), Master in Education: History, Politics, Society at Pontifical Catholic University of Sao Paulo (2001) and PhD in Education: History, Politics, Society at Pontifical Catholic University of Sao Paulo (2006). Associate Professor I at the School of Philosophy, Languages and Human Sciences of Federal University of Sao Paulo - EFLCH / UNIFESP. Professor at the Postgraduation Program in Education at the Federal University of Sao Paulo - UNIFESP. Professor at the Pedagogy Course. Coordinator of the Study and Research Group on Childhood, Culture, History - GEPICH; Researcher member of the Study and Research Group on History of Education, Immigration and Memory - GRUPHEIM; Researcher member of the Research Group TRANSFOPRESS BRASIL - Study Group on Foreign Language Press in Brazil, Researcher member of the Study and Research Group History of Education: intellectuals, institutions, press. Research financed by FAPESP, process number 2018/15168-8, under the title O processo escolar entre imigrantes italianos e seus descendentes: a escola italiana em São Paulo (fins do século XIX e início do século XX) [The schooling process among Italian immigrants and their descendants: the Italian school in São Paulo (late 19th and early 20th centuries)] ORCID: E-mail:

NOTE: Claudia Panizzolo was responsible for the conception, analysis and interpretation of data, writing and critical review of the content of the manuscript and also for the approval of the final version for publication

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