Unes Pàgines de la història del pensament geogràfic a Catalunya


  • Lluís Casassas i Simó


In Catalonia, at the beginning of the XXth. Century, the urban middle classes, which were about to assume control of the national political movement, began to feel concerned about problems of space planning. The result was the publication of a series of papers in which it was tried to elucidate the role of Barcelona in Catalonia, studying the existence and role of the regional subdivisions (comarques), defining the relations between city and country, etc. This was a manifestation of a «political-administrative trend» which subsequently adquired political impetus.
This new approach was facilitated by the introduction in Catalonia of new geographical theories coming from France, affecting the work in progress. It must not be forgotten that the Vidal theories about the geographical possibilism met an environment deeply influenced by the problems of the division of Catalonia and of space planning, not to speak of the very ola background justifying these theories. It is worth mentioning the names of Calça, Pere Gil, Andreu Bosch, etc., and of the geographers of that time: Cebrià Costa, Font i Sagué, Faura i Sans, Carreras i Candi, etc.
Therefore, at the beginning of this century there was a convergency in Catalonia of the theories of the French geographical possibilism with the rational and concrete formulation of political nationalism. The work of Prat de la Riba, Bofill i Matas, Rovira i Virgili, etc., ran parallel with the basic work of Santaló, Palau i Vera, Pau Vila, etc. This convergence proved to be fruitful for Catalan geography, but by itself cannot explain either the rapid acceptance of the new theories or the extension and depth of its roots. It is necessary to look for better reasons; it appears that one of the causes for the spread of these theories was the work of the schoolteachers in Catalonia and also the work of some teachers of the secondary education after the reform at the beginning of the thirties. This paper is intended as a contribution not the study of these questions.
It is evident that in Catalonia modern geographical studies have been initiated in large measure by the schoolteachers. This fact is possibly due to two main causes. First, the main role played in Catalonia by the new or active school which considered that one of the means of stimulating children's activities was to bring them very early in contact with physical and human nature. One of the means of achieving this goal was through scientific school excursions. This method was merely the continuation of a Catalan tradition according to which excursions were a scientific activity. It is also interesting to note the number of geographical and sociological papers published by schoolteachers. One example is the work of Joan Palau i Vera.
In any case, the activities carried out by the «Patronat Escolar» of Barcelona in the Grups Escolars and of the village schoolteachers were a living thing which helped to create a high cultural background.
Very often, people impressed by the results obtained by the teaching centers in Barcelona forget the great contribution of schoolteachers in villages to the progress of geographical studies. It is a duty to mention some names: Balmanya at the Gironès, Casassas i Cantó at the Vallès and at Osona, Tomàs Vicenç at the Alt Empordà, Vilà at Llançà, Font at Caldes de Malavella, Coma at Beget, Bastons at Blanes, and Fornaguera, Blanch, Piquer, Parunella, Martorell, Ainaud, Galí, etc.
The participation of the schoolteachers had another aspect: the publication of geographical papers and local monographs, and also the inclusion of geographical material in the reading books for children. Mention should be made of the books by Martí i Alpera, Alabart, Alsina, Benet i Petit, and specially by Artur Martorell, excellent all to them.
Lastly mention should be made of the participation of a number of schoolteachers (Felip Solé, Pere Blasi, Miquel Santaló and Pau Vila) in the preparation of the «Report on the territorial division of Catalonia».
Except for the work of Joan Bardina a the Escola de Mestres and that of Alexandre Galí at Blanquerna, no precedents can be found for the activities connected with the reform of secundary education in Barcelona during the thirties, while at the Escola Normal de la Generalitat, with Pau Vila, and at the Institut-Escola de la Generalitat new pedagogical methods were developed, giving great importance to the teaching of geography.
Perhaps due to the response and later difusion of its experiences, it is necessary to note the great importance of the pioneer woork of the Institut-Escola in spite of its short duration.
The teaching at the Institut-Escola, directed by Josep Estalella, had a definite human orientation: «He who is a human being is capable of loving all of man's work: art, science, philosophy, trade, industry, geography.» The reform of secondary education at the Generalitat is undoubtedly due to Josep Estalella. He had excellent collaborators, including Rafael Candel i Vila, Àngels Ferrer i Sensat, Lluis Solé i Sabarís, who was the professor of geography.
For all these reasons it can be stated that in the specific field of geography, the innovations in teaching during recent years, both in regard to pedagogical standards and to teaching practice, had their roots in the pioneer work at the Institut-Escola. Therefore, in a history of geographical thinking in Catalonia, a few pages must be devoted to Josep Estalella and to the new directions and methods which originated at the Institut-Escola.