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A book rescues the scientific culture in Barcelona between the two Universal Exhibitions

18 authors reflect in a book the history of science, technology and medicine in the city of Barcelona, and how those influenced the development of the city. It is a result of a scientific project led by the CSIC and the autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB).


Barcelona: An Urban History of Science and Modernity, 1888-1929 is focused on the four decades between the two Universal Exhibitions celebrated in the city. The book is a result of a scientific project led by the science historians Oliver Hochadel, at the Institución Milà i Fontanals of the CSIC, and Agustí Nieto-Galan, from the Centre d’Història de la Ciència of the Autonomuos University of Barcelona (UAB).

“We wanted to find out the role that science, technology and medicine played in the progress of Barcelona, and how they changed the city and the urban spaces and, in turn, how the city did have influence on science progress”, explains Oliver Hochadel.

The book shows how the different social groups used scientific knowledge in diverse ways. For example, on one hand, the conservative elites promoted an important network of naturalists who saw no contradiction between religion and science -an antidarwinian science as a matter of fact- and helped to the development of a Catalan nationalist movement as a cultural and scientific project. On the other hand, in the popular and anarchists “Ateneos” science, medicine and technology was seen as a way of resistance and fight against the cultural hegemony of the elites.

The first modern health clinics in the Eixample of Barcelona were created by the elites, as well as parks like the Ciutadella, which housed the Zoo and the Martorell Museum of Natural Sciences. But the working classes wanted to create their own science as well as their own medical services –and they did it, with the creation of many small clinics in their neighborhoods. Those were also the years of a spiritualism boom as a form of secular religion opposed to the hegemony of Catholicism.

The book also shows that science, technology and medicine were tools for social control. Their main actors were not only scientists, physicians and engineers, but also the users of new technologies, the visitors and donors of objects for the museums, the patients of new clinics, the amateurs and lovers of astronomy and other fields of knowledge. The general audience, the citizens, became therefore the actors of the city progress.

Technology played an essential role in the design and development of the urban network through the fun-parks, the electrification of houses, streets and shops, as well as the installation of the first radio aerials -as a matter of fact, the first radio station was created in Barcelona- and astronomical observatories.

For the research, the authors have had access to several primary sources: documents and pictures from many archives, public and private, from associations and cultural organizations.

Barcelona: An Urban History of Science and Modernity, has been published by the Routledge (UK). Besides the coordinators of the Project, the other authors are Ferran Aragon (UAB), Mónica Balltondre (UAB), Jordi Ferran (UOC), Álvaro Girón (IMF-CSIC), Andrea Graus (UAB), Meritxell Guzmán (UAB), Àlvar Martínez-Vidal (Universitat de València), Jorge Molero-Mesa (UAB), José Pardo-Tomás (IMF-CSIC), Antoni Roca-Rosell (UPC); Pedro Ruiz-Castell (UV), Jaume Sastre-Juan (Universidad de Lisboa), Carlos Tabernero (UAB), Jaume Valentines-Álvarez (Universidad Nueva de Lisboa), Laura Valls (CSIC - UAB) y Alfons Zarzoso (Museu d’Història de la Medicina de Catalunya).