Details of images from Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development (1883), by Sir Francis Galton
This talk takes the primary classroom as a point of entry into the history of the haptic. There, a Progressive-era program called "sensitivity training" first flourished.
Originating in nineteenth-century psychophysics, sensitivity training, the refining of the perceptual faculty, was popularized as a pedagogical method by Maria Montessori, who located touch at the core of her program for early childhood education: children trace letters on textured sandpaper, acquiring a "feel" for the sound and shape before all else.
By revisiting Montessori's cultural aims, as well as situating her program along a scientific history of touch originating in philosophical and philanthropic discussions of blindness, this talk suggests that the judgments typically taught in the college classroom inhabit a continuum of "sensitivity training" that begins in the general primary classroom, where touch discrimination and language are entangled in and as, to borrow from Henry James, a "grasping imagination."