Maria Pia Paganelli, 2014-15 HOPE Center Fellow


Maria Pia Paganelli’s eyes light up when she talks about Adam Smith’s magnum opus.

No, not The Wealth of Nations. That’s just a bit of economic history, she says.

It’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith’s first major work, that has captured her scholarly imagination.

“It’s the best book ever written,” Maria says without hesitation. “It tells a story about human beings in their fullness. It’s an analysis of human behavior in all its aspects, so in that sense it is timeless.”

Maria is spending this fall at the HOPE Center as a senior research fellow. While she is here, she is writing a major survey of the recent literature on the Scottish Enlightenment, of which Adam Smith, along with his good friend David Hume, was an important part.

As befits a Smith scholar, Maria has made a pilgrimage to Glasgow, where in the eighteenth century Adam Smith taught classes in moral philosophy—when he wasn’t, in his celebrated absentminded fashion, falling into tanning pits or wandering off into the countryside.

She spent a semester in Glasgow in 2011, examining archival documents to discover what Smith studied when he was a student at the university there. She also examined the list of books that Smith ordered for the library and the list of books that Smith himself borrowed from the same.

A native Italian, she was determined to understand the local accent and didn’t want to leave Glasgow without having at least one conversation with a local taxi driver. “I succeeded, and was very proud of myself,” she reports with a laugh.

Maria is a professor of economics at Trinity University in San Antonio. She teaches a range of courses, including an interdisciplinary one on, of all places, Iceland. Last year, she and her fellow instructors took their students to the Land of Fire and Ice, where they met the president of the country and the mayor of Reykjavik and toured the central bank. They will do the same this spring.

Spending a semester at the HOPE Center is not only giving Maria time to write her literature survey on the Scottish Enlightenment; it is also giving her an opportunity to attend Roy Weintraub’s course on John Maynard Keynes, a figure about whom she has only a layperson’s knowledge. What’s more, she has been able to observe Roy’s Socratic teaching style and compare it with her own Socratic methods.

“The Center is an easy place to get work done, and to do work well,” she says. “It’s a comfortable place.”

Maria will return to Trinity after Christmas.

--Paul Dudenhefer