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SPAIN: The Residencia de Estudiantes

In my online account of my stays in Spain from 1931 to 1936, I described the Residencia de Estudiantes, where I lived in the period prior to the Civil War; after its outbreak non-essential foreigners like myself were obliged to leave Madrid. I am indebted to the present director of the Residencia, Sr. José García-Velasco for sending me photographs and information about it. I visited it again during the Franco period, when it was under clerical influence. The large auditorium had been transformed into a church. Now it has reverted to its original role, and the years prior to the Civil War are viewed as important for the contribution it made to the foundation of present-day democratic Spàin.

While I do not withdraw any of my earlier comments on the Residencia, I have revised my assessments. I should have paid tribute to the enormous effort made by its founders, almost all of whom were forced into exile by the revolutionary mob, except for a few like the Marquis de Silvela, who was assassinated by it. I wonder what happened to the Marqués de Palomares. Both were enlightened liberals, although they had the misfortune to have a title. Most of the luminaries of the Residencia escaped to Mexico or to England. I would have looked them up had I known their whereabouts. Note that it was not Franco but the revolutionary mob which first threatened them. Franco came later.

Sr. García Velasco has sent me a bibliography of the Residencia from 1910 to 1936. My account is the last item. The bibliography makes clear the number of illustrious Spaniards who were connected with the Residencia. The group I mixed with were mostly studying law, a profession which attracted a lot of ordinary students. I did not get to know the scientists, who were academically more distinguished. This was largely due to the fact that, attached to the Residencia was the Laboratory of Histopathology of Pío del Río Ortega. I was surprised not to see a reference to Juan Negrín, whom I saw occasionally and who played a key role in the last days of the republic. I hope his daughter Carmen, who works for UNESCO in Paris and who is a member of WAIS, can enlighten us. Nor is there any mention of Severo Ochoa, who in 1959 shared the Nobrl Prize for Physiology or Medicine with Stanford's Arthur Kornberg in 1959. We discussed him when I interviewed Kornberg on the WAIS TV program.

My problem was largely that my major area of research was France, and I was working on what was to be a magnum opus on Franco-Spanish relations in the 18th century. This too ambitious project was destroyed during the Civil War, so in that sense I had wasted my time. Moreover, my French ties were not appreciated in the Residencia, which was oriented toward English universities and the English democratic system. The aggressive influence of France in Spain was resented. The whole relationship of Spain with other countries was more complex than I was aware of. I would have done better to have devoted my time to the study of the Spain I witnessed, but in those days the study of contemporary events was viewed as unscholarly. In retrospect I realize that I lost a rare opportunity to become more familiar with the future luminaries. They were young and still unknown. The pleasant law students I knew mostly became run of the mill lawyers. I should have paid more attention to the scientists. Too late, alas.

I am sure there are WAISers who can comment of my remarks, and I hope they will do so. Finally, our very best wishes for 2002 to José García-Velasco and the Residencia about which I hear such good reports.

Ronald Hilton - 12/28/01