Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Jared Poley

Second Advisor

Nick Wilding

Third Advisor

Denise Z. Davidson


The Spanish empire lost the last of its global colonies in 1898, prompting a variety of responses on the peninsula. Perhaps the most recognizable of these is the literary movement of the Generation of 1898, which regarded the military loss as a disaster. A different reaction came from the intellectual, artistic, and industrial elites who shaped Catalan Modernism, a cultural and political movement that challenged assumptions of Spanish disaster, crisis, or backwardness. Taking the form of a prosopography, this dissertation examines a cohort of Catalan elites who were active in cultural, economic, social, political, and intellectual life in fin-de-siècle Barcelona and Madrid. The figures moved between circles, connecting liberal politics with medical science, or visual culture with the ascendant class of industrial entrepreneurs. This study situates Catalan Modernism separately from Castilian Spanish intellectual and cultural movements through analysis of works from the Renaixença and the Generation of 1898. Visual art, literary magazines, memoirs, and treatises on urbanization, architecture, and medicine reveal an elite Catalan culture that celebrated non-Castilian achievements rather than lamenting the loss of empire. Catalan Modernism expressed a desire to boldly face the post-colonial future. However, it gained much of its confidence and strength from nostalgic reflection upon its own medieval past. Events like the Exposición Universal of 1888 in Barcelona revealed the Catalan desire for economic prosperity and modernity, featuring the urbanization efforts of Ildefons Cerdà and the architecture of Lluís Domènech i Montaner. Yet, these men both aimed to revive something of the Catalan past through their work. Domènech’s projects improved public and private spaces, including the Institut Pere Mata, a mental hospital established by proponents of asylum reform advocated by its namesake, physician Pere Mata i Fontanet. Both Mata and Santiago Ramon y Cajal studied the brain, arriving at different conclusions regarding the mind, the role of physiology, and free will within the emerging fields of psychiatry and neuroscience. Their writings contemplated the implications of liberal governance and the nature of the modern self, their pioneering works fueled by the unstable Spanish political climate in which they were conceived.


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