Heritage

Portugal: country of “Discoveries”?

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© M & G Therin-Weise. See at UNESCO.

This Wednesday, 1s March 2017 (18h30), we will have a singular opportunity to listen to two great experts in Portuguese memory and heritage, Elsa Peralta (University of Lisbon) and Teresa Pinheiro (University of Chemnitz).

Last week, we already shared with you a link to a very interesting project done by Pinheiro at her University. Now, we would like to share this provocative introduction of an article by Peralta, that summarises pretty well the problems we have in mind when we thought about inviting these two scholars to discuss the legacies of the Portuguese Empire with us.

The interpretive framework attributed to UNESCO in the following paragraph is at stake. Finally, one can ask: Is/was Portugal “just” a country of expansion and discoveries?

“In 1983 UNESCO designated the Monastery of the Hieronymites and the Tower of Belém in Lisbon as World Heritage Sites. According to UNESCO’s website, themonastery “exemplifies Portuguese art at its best” and the Tower of Bel.m “is a reminder of the great maritime discoveries that laid the foundations of the modern world.”. Less than 10 years after the formal end of the Portuguese colonial empire, UNESCO made use of the exemplar of Portuguese art to reaffirm the long‐used interpretive framework through which Portuguese imperial history has been read both nationally and internationally: Portugal was the country of the “Discoveries,” not a colonial center. Widely disseminated through schools, public discourses, and propaganda since the end of the nineteenth century, this interpretation of Portugal’s imperial history is strongly embedded in the country’s material culture. The naming of streets, bridges, schools, theaters, and monuments after “heroes,” sites, or themes of the Discoveries operates to establish a forceful intimacy with the past, which is materially embedded in the very experience of the space itself. In addition, the public displays, exhibitions, and museums that address the topic – with objects that are often treated as art or antiques – unfailingly exalt the material and visual properties of the objects that testify to Portugal’s imperial deeds. I argue that this focus on materiality, together with an aesthetic lauding of historical objects, has contributed greatly to the resilience of the established view of Portugal’s imperial and colonial past, and made it resistant to modes of representation other than the nostalgic mode of historical grandeur and civilizing legacy.” Elsa Peralta, in  The Presence of the Past: Imagination and Affect in the Museu do Oriente, Portugal