The Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), founded in 1939, is the successor of the Committee for Extension of Studies and Scientific Research (JAE), created in 1907 and whose first president was Santiago Ramón y Cajal. The CSIC continued to lead scientific activity in Spain but gave more importance to applied science than its predecessor.


On 24 November 1939, the Spanish National Research Council was created by means of a Founding Charter, published in the Official State Gazette (28 November, 1939), whereby it took over the responsibilities and the facilities of the JAE.

In 1942 the Founding Charter underwent the first modification, which established the system of collaboration with universities, providing for the creation of joint centres. The year 1945 witnessed the creation of the first vacancies for research and support staff employed by the CSIC.


During the 60s and 70s, the CSIC continued to spread across the whole Spanish territory, with the creation of research centres and institutes, and set up its first foreign office: the CSIC Delegation in Rome.

At the end of 1977, once the democratic system in Spain had been restored, new legislation was passed, representing a break with the past, which would become the text on which all the subsequent legislation was to be articulated.

On 11 January 1907 the Board for Advanced Studies and Scientific Research (JAE) was legally created by Amalio Gimeno, Minister for Public Instruction and Fine Arts.

The aim of this new body, which inherited the principles of an independent teaching institution, was to end Spain’s isolation and forge links with European science and culture. It also aimed to train the staff responsible for implementing the reforms needed in the sphere of science, culture and education. Thus, the endeavour to reform and regenerate the country became a national undertaking; independent of political vicissitudes and involving intellectuals of various ideologies.

The scientific and cultural programme run by the JAE represented the most innovative project in Spain between 1907 and 1939, involving the creation of laboratories and research centres, and awarding grants to study abroad, etc. Furthermore, it brought leading Spanish thinkers and scientists into contact with peers in other countries and on other continents, thus creating the opportunity to bring people together through science and culture.

The first JAE president was Santiago Ramón y Cajal, with the assistance of José Castillejo in the Secretariat. The organisation had various goals, including: a study extension service, in Spain and abroad; the envoy of delegates to scientific conferences; provision of a foreign information service and international relations in education; promotion of scientific research; and protection of educational establishments in secondary and higher education.

To achieve these aims the JAE implemented an active grant-awards policy, which was essential to cultural and scientific development in Spain at that time. This funding policy benefited countless students, lecturers and researchers, who were awarded scholarships to work in Spain, Europe and America. From the outset the JAE implemented an active policy of promoting the creation of a number of research centres and laboratories throughout Spain. These included the Centro de Estudios Históricos de Madrid (1910), for historical studies, directed by Ramón Menéndez Pidal, the Residencia de Estudiantes, and Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Físico-Naturales, for the study of physical and natural sciences, founded in 1910, under the presidency of Cajal with the aid of Blas Cabrera. The latter encompassed existing institutions such as the museums for natural sciences and anthropology, botanical gardens and research station, namely Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Museo Antropológico, Jardín Botánico and Estación Biológica de Santander. These possessed various Committees and laboratories, such as those at research stations (Estación Alpina de Biología del Guadarrama, Misión Biológica de Galicia), as well as biological and physical research laboratories, the palaeontological and prehistoric research commission, the school of mathematics (Seminario Matemático) and laboratories for chemistry, physiology and bacteriology at the Residencia.

Physicians, biologists, chemists, historians, philologists, etc. men and women of science and the arts were trained at the institutions created by the JAE and they were entrusted with the task of implementing the programme to breathe new life into Spanish science and culture. Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Ignacio Bolívar, José Castillejo, Luis Simarro, Juan Negrín, Pío del Río-Hortega, Antonio de Zulueta, Severo Ochoa, Julio Rey Pastor, Francisco Durán i Reinals, Blas Cabrera, Leonardo Torres Quevedo, José Casares Gil, José Fernández-Nonídez, Cruz Gallastegui, Federico de Onís, Ramón Menéndez Pidal, María de Maeztu, Tomás Navarro Tomás, Américo Castro, Antonio García Solalinde, Samuel Gili Gaya, Rafael Altamira,... just to name some of the people who took part in this enterprise.

On 19 May 1938, in the midst of the Spanish Civil War, Franco’s government declared a cessation of the activities of the JAE, although the Board kept an office open in Valencia (later relocated to Barcelona), which was supported by the legitimate government of the Republic. In October of that year, Tomás Navarro Tomás appointed Luis Calandre, Director of the Hospital de Carabineros which was housed in the Residencia de Estudiantes, as Subdelegate of the JAE in Madrid. His task was to maintain its activities and carry out an inventory of its laboratories, including the Microscopic Anatomy laboratory which had been under his management. At the end of the war Luis Calandre was condemned to internal exile, facing trial twice and was finally sent to prison.

Over the course of the war many of the JAE’s scientists were obliged to flee the country. Some of these scientists, closely linked to the “Casa de España” in Mexico, would go on to found the journal “Ciencia. Revista hispano-americana de Ciencias puras y aplicadas” (Science. Hispano-American Journal of Pure and Applied Sciences), which served as a focal point for Spanish scientists in exile. The first issue of the journal was published on 1 March 1940 under the editorship of Ignacio Bolívar Urrutia. The three chief editors were Cándido Bolívar Pieltain, Isaac Costero and Francisco Giral.

In 1939, Franco’s newly instated regime created the Spanish National Research Council (“Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas”) from the JAE laboratories, premises and centres. The president of the new body was the Minister for Education, José Ibáñez Martín, with the close collaboration of José María Albareda, who was appointed Secretary General of the CSIC. The Law passed on 24 November 1939, creating the CSIC, laid down that “all the centres belonging to the dissolved Board for Advanced Studies and Scientific Research (JAE), the Foundation for Scientific Research and Reform Trials (“Fundación de Investigaciones Científicas y Ensayos de Reformas”) and those created by the Institute of Spain (“Instituto de España”) would become part of the Spanish National Research Council.”

One hundred years since the foundation of the first JAE centres


In early 1938, the State Technical Board, created to lead the administration during the outset of the civil war, gave way to a Government that undertook the task of creating a new State. Their main responsibility in the field of research was contained in the Decree of May 19, 1938 ("Decree conferring on the Institute of Spain the mission of guiding and directing high culture and higher research in Spain").

The text of the aforementioned Decree, which extolled the figure of Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo, aimed to articulate "Spanish culture and science in accordance with the aspirations of the Expert". Logically, an ideological discourse was raised, based on the need to strengthen national conscience, and to eliminate "the terrible slavery of cliques and political parties."

Measures were announced aimed at returning research responsibilities and the related means to the university, which together with professional training, constituted the mission of the university. The rules should be completed by new provisions designed to develop the principles announced in that Decree.

The Decree also called for the suppression of the Board for Advanced Studies and Scientific Research (JAE), and most of its functions were transferred to the body known as the Institute of Spain (Instituto de España). The decision on both the responsibilities and institutions that were to be handed over to the universities and those to be removed was delayed.

Several research institutes, of historical and literary content, were set out in honour of Menéndez Pelayo: 

  • Centro de Estudios Históricos (Centre of Historical Studies)
  • Centro de Filología Románica (Centre of Romanic Philology)
  • Centro de Filología Semítica y Estudios Arábigos (Centre of Semitic Philology and Arabic Studies), with one of its headquarters located in Granada
  • Centro de Arqueología e Historia Americana (Centre of American Archaeology and History), located in Sevilla.
  • Comisión para la Historia de la Ciencia Española (Committee for the History of Spanish Science)
  • Comisión para formar una Biblioteca de Autores Españoles  Seminario de Filología Clásica (Committee to set up a Library with works by Spanish Authors and a College for Classic Philology)

The document indicted that "institutions concerning the study of natural sciences and mathematics" would be created in “the near future”.

As soon as the civil war ended, a new Decree was published (26 April 1939). The institutes of "scientific, philosophical and technical nature" were founded under the governance of a secular-type board under the name of “Santiago Ramón y Cajal”.

These institutes were:

  • Centro de Estudios filosóficos y Matemáticos (Centre for Philosophical and Mathematical Studies)
    Seminario "Juan Luis Vives" para estudios pedagógicos (Juan Vives College for Educational Studies)
  • Seminario Huarte de San Juan de psicología aplicada (Huarte de San Juan College for Applied Psychology)
  • Centro de Exploraciones y Estudios Geográficos Juan Sebastián Elcano (Juan Sebastian Elcano centre for geographical surveys), located in San Sebastián
  • Centro de Estudios Biológicos y Naturales (Centre for Natural and Biological Studies), including the Ramon y Cajal laboratory for biology and a laboratory for chemistry
  • The "Natural Sciences Society and Museum", to manage the zoological and botanical gardens; the Spanish society for geological mapping; museums of mineralogy, petrography and applied crystallography; oceanographic stations; and stations for biological-livestock studies.
  • Centro de Altos Estudios de Física, Química y Mecánica (Centre for higher studies in physics, chemistry and mechanics)
  • Unit to undertake the edition of the encyclopaedia "Enciclopedia hispánica"


A few months later the project was redefined by the creation of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (Spanish National Research Council) by a Law passed on 24 November 1939. The premises and responsibilities of the JAE, the Fundación de Investigaciones Científicas y Ensayos de Reformas (Foundation for Scientific Research and Reform Trials), which had been created a few months earlier by the Instituto de España (Institute of Spain), and all those belonging to the National Education Ministry that were not ascribed to a university, were transferred to the new institution.

The declaration of purpose cited “the will to renew the glorious scientific tradition”, basing it on the “restoration of the classic Christian unity of the sciences, that was destroyed in the 18th century”. These principles, inspired by the new political regime in Spain, drew upon the ideas of the thinkers of late 18th century European counter-revolutionary ideology, representing the period with which the regime sought to reconnect.

The preceding period was written off as being one of “poverty and paralysis”, and the new regime pursued the recovery of the spiritual Hispanic energy as a means of creating a universal culture. The idea of demonising the JAE and creating an institution with the opposite ideological principles is apparent in all the legal texts and in the writings of the leading managers at the outset of the CSIC.

These ideological forces were a burden on scientific activity for a considerable time, particularly in fields most sensitive to them. However, these restrictions were widespread in Spain at the time and not limited exclusively to the CSIC, which stood head and shoulders above the other institutions conducting research in the country, including the universities. The new institution was set up in collaboration with the Royal Academies and those university lecturers who had survived the purges, some of whom had worked previously with the JAE.

Initially it was assigned a role of “coordination and promotion”, highlighting that it should not “interfere with centres and institutions that were developing independently.”