“La luz no se extingue, historia del primer Externado”

At the inauguration of our House of Studies new H and I buildings, Rector Juan Carlos Henao announced the publication of the book “La luz no se extingue, historia del primer Externado” (A light never extinguished. History of the first Externado), by Juan Camilo Rodríguez, director of the University History project. The book covers the history of the University from 1886 to 1895.

Referring to the book, the Rector stated: “The title cannot be more evocative: La luz no se extingue, historia del primer Externado1886-1895.’ The book, which I strongly recommend, is the clearest explanation of our origins; the why and the context in which we were born (…) I vehemently say that one thing the Externado can be very proud of is its history and its origins.”

The research comprises 13 chapters presenting the following: an account of the history of the Externado, the education problems since the early days of the Republic, and the big controversies, summarized, in good part, in the huge controversy on the use of the texts by British philosopher Jeremy Bentham. The book looks at the earlier ties with the Universidad Nacional and the Colegio del Rosario at the time they lost their liberal character, and the way professors and students expelled from those institutions united to create the Externado. It then focuses on the figure of Nicolás Pinzón Warlosten before the Externado, revealing little-known facets of his life and approaching a biographical reconstruction of the founder.

Subsequently, the book deals with the early years: the heated intern-external debate, greatly influencing education at the time; the singularities of the regulation; the theses written by those students; the Rectory of the former President of the United States of Colombia, Santiago Pérez. Next, the research continues with the Externado progress, and the political tensions created, prompting persecution. Likewise, it shows the essential Spencer positivism and the introduction of vanguard authors in his classrooms. Following, the author talks about the war of 1895 and the institution’s closing.

The construction of this story allows overcoming clichés, demystify, and provide empirical evidence of the complex path of the first Externado and its links with the politics and culture of the time. The great difficulty, the immense challenge of this research was the lack of records. This is another of the misfortunes: the first Externado records disappeared. The death of Pinzón Warlosten, the banishment of some, the persecution of others; in the midst of such anxiety, all documents vanished. The history, then, had to be reconstructed through other sources, such as the press of the time, public and private archives, as well as numerous secondary references.  Historical research that sometimes abutted with archaeology to dig, here and there, diverse and scattered traces of the first Externado and integrate them, allowing to piece it together.

The story of the first Externado, serving as a backdrop for the country, teaches much about the present: there are similar arguments about free will, education, civil freedoms and its new forms; censorship, the rights and duties, the abuse of different powers, intolerance, fanaticism, diversity, corruption, electoral fraud, the use of force and violence, democracy, political participation, centralism and federalism; equity, minorities, and, among many others, peace.