No one has published a general treatment of Spanish universities in the eighteenth century since the works of Vicente de la Fuente and Antonio Gil de Zárate, which are now over a century old. Moreover, in the last twenty years there has been an increasing interest in the Spanish eighteenth century, and a realization of its importance both in Spain and abroad. Thus, a book that brings together the diverse findings of recent years on university reform and enlightenment is most welcome.

Professor Álvarez has given himself 200 pages for this task. He begins with the “situation” of the universities in the eighteenth century. Like other investigators, he finds their condition lamentable, combining poverty, academic torpor, and overweening privilege. Next, the author discusses the beginnings of reform in both the intellectual and the institutional sense. Here he touches the general penetration of the Enlightenment and the work of innovators like Feijoo, Verney, and Olavide. He considers the latter at Seville responsible for the initial impetus of reform. Without vexing the problem of firsts, it seems to me that the author’s most important finding here is that all of the universities were in some degree ready to accept reform. The atmosphere favorable to change was generalized by the mid-1760’s.

Álvarez then moves on to examine the preparation of the various plans of studies, the actions of crown and council, and the acceptance (or lack of it) by the universities. In this section, he devotes considerable attention to analyzing the intellectual content of the various plans. The final chapters are devoted to educational reforms outside the university and to the last epoch of reform in the reign of Charles IV.

Perhaps the most laudable aspect of the book is its attempt to see the reform in wide perspective. This intent is well carried out, and the book is logically developed and lucidly written. Nevertheless, the work is not totally successful. In the first place, it seems to me that Álvarez does not have enough elbow room. Two hundred pages are really insufficient for the task at hand. I do not say that the landmarks of the subject are not indicated, but the richness of detail that might have made the book more vital and penetrating is not there. Moreover, this is a book largely written from secondary sources. Álvarez cites published collections of decrees, various planes de estudios, and contemporary books, but the bulk of his study comes from “authorities.” For the most part, they are used sensibly, but adequate primary studies of all the Spanish universities in the epoch of reform do not exist. Therefore, Álvarez has to slide around some gaps (e.g., the reform at Alcalá), and this, in turn, somewhat vitiates his generalizations. Situated, as it were, some distance from the battle, Álvarez’ treatment seems to give a smoothness to events and a purposiveness to actions that belies the duplications, false starts, half-measures, and errors which seem to emerge from the archives.

This work has an additional shortcoming, perhaps inherent in the nature of the problem and the character of the sources, which has afflicted all who have written on the university reform. We have all depended too much upon tracing the pedigrees of the textbooks adopted. This technique is useful as far as it goes, but what is needed now is to carry the matter beyond discovery of texts into an analysis of their ideas.

Finally, Álvarez leaves the universities somewhat hanging in the air. The importance of the universities on the national scene and the wider significance of their reform is implied but not explicitly stated and developed. In summary, then, the book is valuable for its broad view and attempted synthesis, and admirable for its lucidity and arrangement, but it fails to penetrate the whole scene of reform and enlightenment.