Internationalization of Portuguese
Historiography and its Discontents
Institute of Historical Sociology
Universidade Nova de Lisboa
has long been a peripheral country. The hard facts of geography
both size and location have coalesced with lasting economic, political,
and cultural structures to keep the country away from the forefront of
historical change. Chances for national improvement and for the integration
in the ever widening international community have been accordingly slim.
In such a context, academic research, which was for a long time regarded
by consecutive governments as an extravagant luxury, could hardly keep
pace with the developments occurring elsewhere in the world.
The laggardness and seclusion of Portuguese academic endeavours have been
commonplace, in almost every field of knowledge. Only recently have the
want of innovation, the backwardness of the scientific system, and the
poverty of its internationalization come to be understood as problems
that must be addressed. With the help of newly available European funds,
the promotion of research and development has been steadily pursued by
governments for the last ten years or so. This effort is still clearly
insufficient to bridge the wide gap, which kept expanding over such a
long period, and this shows in the position Portugal holds in most international
scientific and academic rankings. However, the change of scale of the
public investment in this area has already produced some results, particularly
in the fields of Engineering and Technology, Health and Life Sciences,
and Economics. The number of young researchers doing their doctoral and
post-doctoral studies abroad has multiplied, and internationalization
advanced, through network building, new more demanding standards
of publication, and a more cosmopolitan outlook. But this is not exactly
true of all fields of knowledge.
The Humanities and Social Sciences (with the conspicuous exception of
Economics) have not figured high in the list of priorities in public policies.
Therefore, the lack of resources has certainly played a part in restricting
the opportunities for internationalization. However, there is more to
the prevailing parochialism of research in these fields, than just inadequate
funding. It has to do, for one thing, with the very nature of these disciplines,
as their agendas tend to be national-specific. But it has also much to
do with an established narrow-minded attitude which pervades most academic
institutions, and which is a long way from having been displaced. This
is not to say that some progress has not been made, because it has. Familiarity
with the more important theoretical and methodological breakthroughs,
general knowledge of foreign bibliographies, and the practice of comparative
analysis are now much more common among Portuguese social scientists.
Still, parochialism remains very much at the core of the academic system.
This is particularly the case of historiography.
To be sure, in the last few decades, Portuguese historians have become
increasingly aware of the foreign literature in their specific fields
of study. Sometimes they have even been inspired by that literature when
setting their agenda for research, and a measure of comparative concern
is less extraordinary than it used to be some twenty or thirty years ago.
But this has not uprooted the lasting insularity of national historiography.
As a matter of fact, when it comes to historiography, the long peripheralization
of Portugal has had a double bearing. In the first place, as happened
in other scientific domains, the community of Portuguese historians (if
it may be so called) became relatively isolated and remained aloof from
the international trend towards the internationalization of research.
But what is specific to our discipline is that Portugal and Portuguese
history also became peripheral as objects for research, a circumstance
which could not help restricting the opportunities for internationalization.
In fact, if the Great Discoveries and the role that Portugal played in
the early-modern European expansion are left out, one must reckon that
Portuguese themes have consistently not appealed to foreign researchers,
and when they have, they usually interested peripheral historians (with
the odd exception). A peripheral country usually attracts peripheral historians.
Portuguese researchers, then, have not met the challenge in their home
ground of more advanced historiographies; they were not forced to learn
from and adapt to new approaches, insights, and methodologies. As a result,
they did not find it necessary to take part in the exchange within the
international historiographical community. Most never even dreamed of
studying anything other than national history.
Furthermore, there is the language problem. Although one of the more widely
spoken languages in the western hemisphere, Portuguese is scarcely known
to non-native speakers. This is undoubtedly a handicap, but it must not
be an impediment to internationalization. Other countries, with an even
greater linguistic peculiarity, have dealt with the problem, resorting
to the widespread use of English, which has become the language for international
publication and communication. This is an irresistible trend to which
Portuguese historians must become accustomed, should they really want
to take part in the movement towards the internationalization of their
discipline, that is.
The resistance to internationalization is not simply a story of missing
opportunities; it is at least as much a case of forsaken opportunities.
Even when funding was available (for instance through the National Commission
for the celebration of the Portuguese Discoveries) and international interest
significant (although still peripheral in global terms), as with the history
of Portuguese expansion, which drew the curiosity of reputable scholars
in the wake of Charles Boxer, the chances for putting together large-scale
international networks have been grossly neglected. For sure, most of
those scholars have developed an interest in the history of Portugal and
her empire which is an offshoot of their main concerns as Brazilianists
(Stuart Schwartz, John Russell-Wood, Dauril Alden and their students),
Africanists (Edward Alpers, Malyn Newitt, John Thornton, Joseph Miller)
or specialists of India and the Eastern world (Om Prakash, Michael Pearson,
Anthony Disney). They nonetheless form an excellent group, which could
be successfully turned into an important and internationally visible community
for scientific discussion and exchange. Some of these researchers may
have their contacts and keep relationships with individual Portuguese
colleagues and take part in some of their ventures, but this has not produced
consistent results, at least at the institutional level. The possibility
of turning the Commission for the celebration of the Discoveries into
a research institute, which would promote the internationalization of
Portuguese social sciences in the area of colonial and post-colonial studies,
was promptly rejected, thwarting in this way any prospect of a pro-active
Bearing in mind what has been said so far, it may not come as a surprise
that the record of international publication by Portuguese historians,
even in the more favoured fields, is so meagre and that the Portuguese
historiography continues to be largely unheard of in the major international
centres of research. There are some exceptions to this rather gloomy perspective.
For instance, studies on the history of early-modern law and institutions
carried out by António Manuel Hespanha and his followers and on
Salazars dictatorship and the transition to democracy by António
Costa Pinto and some youner researchers have befitted the agendas of international
research networks. There have developed some small groups which consistently
work in an international framework, and one can find more often chapters
on Portugal in cross-European comparative volumes. Nevertheless, the Portuguese
case is still missing from many such works, and the number of papers by
Portuguese historians that find their way into the pages of internationally
renowned journals is almost ridiculous.
Is it just because Portugal is out of favour as topic for research? Because
it is definitely not central to be part of the mainstream surveys and
not peripheral enough to find a place in cultural or area studies? Is
it that Portuguese historians are turned down, because the papers they
submit are not satisfactory or sufficiently appealing to an international
audience? It may be so, but one of the main reasons is that the concern
for internationalisation is largely rhetorical. This clearly shows in
the charade of international participation in academic evaluation and
research assessment. For the most part, internationalization is irrelevant
for the national recognition of academics and academic institutions. Those
with significant international records are not necessarily praised or
rewarded, and the more close-minded are certainly not penalized. With
a few worthy exceptions, the academic nomenklatura have built their
power on parochialism, and have grounded their international connections
on the control over national resources, not on the internationalization
of their work and research.
While this system keeps in place, strategies for the internationalization
of Portuguese historiography, however well-intended they may be, will
only produce minor results, because it will never be at the core of the
2004, ISSN 1645-6432
e-JPH, Vol.1, number 2, Winter 2003