The handbooks of and introductions to topics such as civic education have been, expectedly, a staple of Italian education over the past century or so, but certain periods saw a particular abundance of such textbooks and implicitly of approaches and pedagogical methods. Handbooks of civic education proliferated around the late 1950s and early 1960s, a fascinating period to anyone interested in the history of national curricula, as the world was trying then to put behind it the devastation of World War II and the moral and political turmoil it had entailed. A general feature of these books, including the five selected here (out of about two dozen examples available in our digital archive) is the optimistic note they strike and the confidence with which they envision a world dominated by cooperation and mutual interests.


This being said, there are also notable discordant notes one can distinguish in these handbooks. Some of them – e.g., Educazione civica per le scuole medie e di avviamento, Serafino Maiolo, 1958 – are squarely focused on Italian society and most mentions of other societies and cultures seem rather perfunctory or are uninformative if not downright misleading in their simplicity (see, e.g., the division of humankind into races on pp. 39-40). They tend to present fairly short, schematic overviews of the principles of international cooperation (pp. 153-158 in the same handbook).

Maiolo’s synthesis of those principles, including an outline of the structure and mission of the UN, and of several European organizations, concludes by noting, among other things, that the growing closeness and collaboration between nations is due to the continuous development of the means of communication, to their shared fear of a world conflagration, and to an increasingly mature universal sense of solidarity.


All this sounds reasonable, and generally reflective of the late 1950s, but the author adds emphatically that this solidarity is strengthened to a significant extent by the Christian doctrine. Even this short excursus on international cooperation is thus clearly biased and considered through a European lens, more specifically, through the perspective of Italian Catholicism, which is central to much of this book.


Both the organization itself of the discussion and its often lavish use of illustrations are meant to clarify the approach adopted in a number of other introductions.


Educazione alla vita

Educazione alla vita, by Aurelio Verra (1959) makes references to non-Italian and non-European societies and cultures throughout its chapters. The use of the photographs is quite subtle in this respect, inviting the students to imagine, say, elections held in other countries; see, for instance, the photo on p. 49, probably taken in China, and accompanied by a quote from the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The photos illustrating the vital roles played by the working class, especially by the farmers (p. 65, Verra, 1959), are not conveyed as just representations of Italian farmers; instead, the caption notes that three billion people are nourished through the conscientious and generous labor of many millions of workers.

In the same vein, quite early on, we find in Verra’s book a photo taken in the classroom of a typical Italian primary school (p. 17; several names of Italian cities are written on the blackboard), but intended to give emphasis, much more generally, to the vital place of education in the formation of an international consciousness and the reinforcing of people’s faith in human rights, justice and social progress.

A quote from the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights is also used to accompany the photos on p. 81 (including one of what appears to be a Chinese girl playing a cello), illustrating the right to participation in the cultural life of the community and to the enjoyment of leisure.

La communità dei popoli

The fourth section (‘La communità dei popoli’) of Verra’s 1959 book starts with a photo-collage that brings together, as in a family picture, dozens of faces of people from as many cultures around the world. The unity of Europe and of the world (and the possible obstacles to such a unity) is the pivotal topic of this section.


A number of other handbooks embrace an approach that seems like a compromise between the two briefly described above. In La famiglia umana (Giovanni Gozzer and Mario Pagella, also published in 1959), there is an obvious emphasis on the historical background of the main concepts (rights, equality etc.) explored there, but the historical episodes summarized by Gozzer and Pagella draw on quite a few other civilizations than the Italian one – although the latter remains the protagonist.

Lesson 26

La communità europea

Lesson 26 (‘La communità europea’, Gozzer and Pagella, 1959) discusses what we may regard now as the ‘prehistory’ of the EU and its defining instruments and institutions.

Lesson 27

La communità europea

Lesson 27 (‘La communità europea’, Gozzer and Pagella, 1959) deals with international cooperation (including intellectual cooperation) and the structure of the UN.


La famiglia umana

Various exercises complement the outlines offered in Gozzer and Pagella’s 1959 La famiglia umana, encouraging the students to try their hand at doing some research of their own.


L’ABC del Cittadino (Filippo Sacchi, 1964) prefers another, if not fundamentally different, compromise. Surprisingly, no distinct section is devoted to international cooperation, and some of the more specific examples are based on or inspired by Italian society and its institutions. Yet, much of the discourse in this survey is formulated in sufficiently general terms to be applicable to virtually any community (in terms of the essential role of the family in this context, of the relation between individual and state, laws and morality etc.) and thus to function as a sort of implicit account of human society taken universally.


Educazione civica

Probably the most widely adopted formula in civic education handbooks, especially at a somewhat more advanced level, is to focus on a set of general concepts and to illustrate them with reference to the Italian society and political institutions, but to also offer a fairly robust analysis of international cooperation and universal solidarity. This is the case, e.g., with Maiolo’s 1964 Educazione civica, which studies these topics along with the goals of a whole range of organizations, from the UN and its various branches to NATO and the European Council, in clear fashion.


It should be noted that most of these textbooks and handbooks (some of them including exercises) follow official guidelines, as many of their titles indicate explicitly. Yet, despite adhering to those guidelines, they still display an impressive array of angles and emphases, all geared to helping the students to develop an overall grasp of social institutions and to realize, among other things, that social norms and interactions are not confined to local communities or even to what happens within entire nations.