Portuguese Engineering and the African Empire: strategies of appropriation and management of the colonial territories of Angola and Mozambique (1850-1930)
This project aims at understanding how technical/engineering expertise was crucial to the Portuguese agenda concerning management and exploitation of the overseas territories in Africa, particularly Angola and Mozambique, from about the mid 19th century to the 1970s. Our basic assumption is that technology is at the very core of European influence worldwide, making Europe an "irresistible empire” (Grazi, 2006). One of the main pillars of this process is the building of infrastructures in colonial territories, particularly since the era of the New Imperialism (Headrick, 1981). Using LTS (Large Technological Systems) theoretical framework, and the concepts of “technopolitics”(Hecht, 1998) and "portals of globalization" (Middel,2010) as the key bone for our analysis, we purpose to show how technical expertise, mainly the building of infrastructures, was used to enact political goals. We will address two main questions:
- Consolidation and development of the African colonies: The Berlin Conference stimulated colonial powers to establish “effective occupation” of their colonies (instead of calling for “historical rights”. Portugal, being a peripheral country within Europe, is suddenly aware that its presence in Angola and Mozambique must be strongly visible. Technical infrastructures, mostly civil engineering works, are chosen to show the great European powers that Portugal was indeed able to master its African empire, within the “civilizing missions” rationale. This strategy was the result, on one hand, of the national agenda of “material improvements”, promoted by the leaders of the Regeneração, and, on the other hand, of the international trend to use science and technology as “tools of the Empire” (Headrick, 1981)
- Translation of colonial into European power; relationships between centre(s)/periphery(ies), in an international scene characterised by nationalisms and worldwide technical knowledge: European states were involved in a continuous struggle for power and used their colonial possessions to strengthen their positions in the European arena. Portugal, being a peripheral country, used its colonies to get the maximum possible influence in Europe, concerning political, economical and geo-strategic agendas. Moreover, Portugal was a centre when seen from Angola and Mozambique. This ambiguous role played by Portugal, within a context of strong European nationalisms and worldwide technological systems, makes Portugal a very important case study concerning the theme of Technology and Colonialism.
The methodological approach we propose in this project is, as far as the Portuguese case is concerned, fully innovative. Traditionally Portuguese colonial history has been studied from a political and economic perspective, approaching technology as a very subsidiary theme. We pioneer the idea of studying infrastructures as historical actors.
To achieve this goal, we chose a set of case studies concerning “technologies of the land” and “technologies of the state” (Hecht, 2001) – the axe railways/roads/harbours, telegraphs, electricity and urban infrastructures -, which will be used to analyze the building of the modern pro-industrial African landscape, the processes of transfer/adaptation/resistance of European technologies when used in African colonies, and to understand the role played by the "African experience" in the Portuguese engineering profile. The reconstitution of this technological circulation includes several agents, since the critical role performed by the state until the more atomistic but no least important existence of foreign and domestic firms for territorial occupation and infrastructure.
The team has a strong previous experience of working together in the topic of colonial technologies and has always been actively involved in the leading European network Tensions of Europe. The quality of the research already developed was acknowledged both internationally and nationally: the Pi was invited to co-author the volume Europe Globalizing); Ana Paula Silva was awarded a post-doctoral Grant to study the electrification of the Portuguese African colonies that includes a research period at the Imperial College. The PhD. student Bruno Navarro is currently working on railways, roads and harbours in Angola and Mozambique, the topic of his thesis. The team also includes the contribution of two senior researchers on Tropical Medicine and Management and Economics, two areas often entangled with our main topic.
The main output of this project will be the consolidation and deepening of the research on colonial infrastructures in the Portuguese empire, contributing both to Portuguese History and to the ongoing international debate on the dynamics of the process of “Europeanizing the World/Provincializing Europe”.