Maria Gaetana Agnesi: mathematics and the making of the Catholic Enlightenment
University of Exeter. At the time of publication, the author was at the University of Toronto.
University of Chicago Press
Maria Gaetana Agnesi (1718-1799) was known as the author of a textbook on calculus that appeared in Milan in 1748. For the first time a woman was able to establish herself as a legitimate mathematician and publish her work. This essay reconstructs the religious and scientific culture in which the textbook originated and considers lesser-known aspects of Agnesi's life and thought. It argues that Agnesi was a principal exponent of the "Catholic Enlightenment" in Italy and that her spiritual practice, pious activity, and innovative pedagogical ideas profoundly shaped her approach to mathematics. The study suggests that the reformist culture of the Catholic Enlightenment provided the conditions that enabled a few talented women to access privileged forms of knowledge and social life; it may be one factor that accounts for the unusual presence of learned women in Italian scientific institutions during the early eighteenth century.
© The History of Science Society
92 (4), pp.657-683