Una identità in movimento

The Development of University Physics in Cuba, 1816-1962

José Altshuler* – Angelo Baracca**

* President, Sociedad Cubana de Historia de la Ciencia y la Tecnología, La Habana, Cuba
** Department of Physics, University of Florence, Italy

A late child of the introduction of the European Enlightment to the Spanish colonies in America, systematic teaching of experimental physics was introduced in Cuba about 1816 by Félix Varela at the San Carlos Seminar in Havana. He was also the author of the first physics textbook written and published in Cuba in 1819-1820. Only at the end of 1843 a physics laboratory was founded at the University of Havana, after the control on the institution had been transfered from the hands of the church to those of the Spanish colonial government. From 1851 to 1891, Antonio Caro, a physician by training, was in charge of the teaching of physics. The 1880 educational reform eliminated the "Bachelor" level from the University and introduced Mechanics and Higher Physics as subjects in the new curricula.

After the formal end of the Spanish colonial rule, a reform of higher education was put into operation in Cuba in 1900, but the teaching of university physics remained substantially unchanged at a descriptive level until the early 1920s. As a result of the student led University Reform Movement which broke out in 1923, some new teachers were substituted for former incompetent ones. One of the newcomers was Manuel Gran, under whose leadership a four semester Higher Physics course worthy of the name, both in its theoretical and its experimental aspects, was implemented. By the middle 1930s Theoretical Physics was introduced as an independent subject in the Physical-Mathematical Sciences major curriculum.

The development of Science and Technology, and the implementtion of an efficient system of higher education were among the priorities set by the Revolutionary Government established in 1959. The first substantial reform in the teaching of physics took place in 1960-1961 at the School of Engineering of the University of Havana. This was followed by the creation of a research-oriented School of Physics within the Faculty of Sciences as a part of the new plan approved for higher education in 1962. Invited specialists from various foreign countries helped to solve the enormous problems posed by the implementation of the new study plans, while a substantial group of Cuban students went on scholarships to study physics in Eastern European countries and the Soviet Union. Both facts had important consequences, which led to the present situation where further development is limited mainly by lack of material resources and not so much by lack of qualified personnel.

Cuba. Una identità in movimento

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