Sunday, May 16, 2021

Myth-busting and Celebrating on Maria Gaetana Agnesi's 303rd Birthday

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Maria Gaetana Agnesi in Milan, Italy, on May 16, 1718. Sadly, many myths continue to be perpetuated about Maria. Just yesterday, I found a site that offers a "library of teaching worksheets" for classroom use called KidsConnect. At first, I was pleased to see they include a set of worksheets about Maria. But when I read the sample information, I found it riddled with errors. For example, it includes what I called Myth #1 in one of my earliest posts on this site: "Her father, Pietro Agnesi, was a math professor at the University of Bologna." I debunk that myth here

Another myth on the KidsConnect page is "Maria’s mother’s death made her retire from public life. She stayed at home and manage [sic] the house, and she was the eldest of 21 children." The page also says: "Aside from completing her own lessons and performances, she was also responsible for teaching her siblings. This task kept her from achieving her own goal of entering a convent, as she had become extremely religious." I explain the error behind statements like these in this blog post

I'm especially troubled that these myths are part of information sheets used to instruct children about Maria Gaetana Agnesi. I don't know about the worksheets themselves, but the sample information on the KidsConnect website does not cite any sources. From what I read there, the "facts" seem to have been copied from the Wikipedia entry for Maria Gaetana Agnesi. While Wikipedia does include source references, those sources are unreliable and contain misinformation. That's how these myths keep getting perpetuated. I have sent a message to KidsConnect regarding these issues. We'll see if they respond.

I still hope to publish a nonfiction biography of Maria Gaetana Agnesi for young readers that will provide the true story of her life. Meanwhile, I recommend these two references for the most accurate information we have about Maria:

    A Biography of Maria Gaetana Agnesi, an Eighteenth-Century Woman Mathematician by Antonella Cupillari
    The World of Maria Gaetana Agnesi, Mathematician of God by Massimo Mazzotti (You can follow him on Twitter @maxmazzotti)

On a positive note, today I discovered that the Remarkablz site celebrated Maria with a fun Science Superhero Identity and a game card in their Top Quarkz game. You can read all about it here.  

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