Jeanne Marie Penvenne

Portuguese Colonial-Era Newspapers and Periodicals: Silences, Fragments and False Firmaments

22.05.2017, 10.00, Auditorium B, Rectory of Nova University, Campolide

Over the past four decades scholars have built a rich literature around Portuguese colonial newspapers, journals and magazines. They have mapped the many publications, placing them in time and space and, when possible, noting their founders, promoters and genealogies. Historians have identified journalists and intellectuals as key political and cultural personalities. They have recovered urban family and social histories from coverage of the social rituals attending marriages, births, and deaths. There is much to celebrate in this exciting work of excavation and construction, yet the silences, fragments and false firmaments are just as striking.

I am interested in the full potential of the press. In this talk I will mention my current research on urban family and social history, but also focus on the implications of the silences, fragments and false firmaments that comprise my subtitle. First, the colonial press clearly frames men’s conversations with men. Women, especially African women, are basically absent, ignored, and silent. Historians are increasingly aware that women know and tell their histories in ways fundamentally different from men, but that is not the whole story. Second, newspaper conversations among men are often fragments – thus partially silent. As Naipaul reminds, “newspapers in small colonial places told a special kind of truth… They left out a lot of important things – often essential things – that people would know and gossip about.”1  Reading in ways that allow us to connect what is said and not said is an important challenge. Third, and quite strikingly, the colonial press projected false firmaments throughout its history, but in particular, Portugal’s late colonial press discourse, framed large portions of continental Africa as simply provinces of the Metropole and thus the firmament of Portugal’s overseas empire and influence.

That false firmament set up both settlers and the metropolitan population for complete disillusion when, in the wake of the 1974 coup, the empire largely dissolved.

Who wrote in the press, for whom, about whom, and why? What can newspapers reveal through the practice of close reading? What did consumers of colonial newspapers take from the news, the ads and photos? These are rich, multilayered and complicated sources. We have much more to learn from them.

1 – V.S. Naipaul, Bend in the River (New York: Vintage 1979).

Jeanne Marie Penvenne. Professor of History, International Relations and Africana Studies, Tufts University, Medford Massachusetts. She earned her doctorate at Boston University, and a specialist in African History, Labor History and Gender Studies.  She has won prizes for Teaching and Research at Tufts, and has also been Visiting Professor at Eduardo Mondlane in Mozambique.  Her most recent book is Women, Migration and the Cashew Economy of Southern Mozambique, 1945 to 1975 (2015). Her other publications include, “Learning from Jill Dias: Press, Photography and People.” in Maria Cardeira da Silva and Clara Saraiva (coords), Jill Dias’ lessons in Anthropology, History, África, Academy. Centro em Rede de Investigação em Antropologia (2013);”Fotografando Lourenço Marques: A Cidade e os seus Habitantes de 1960 á 1975″ in Os Outros da Colonização: Ensaios sobre Tardo-colonialismo em Moçambique. Edited by Claúdia Castelo, Omar Ribeiro Tomaz, Sebastião Nascimento e Teresa Cruz e Silva. Lisbon: Imprensa de Ciências Sociais, 2012; ‘Two Tales of a City – Lourenço Marques, 1945-1975″ Portuguese Studies Review; Special Issue in Honor of Jill R. Dias. 19, 1-2 (2011): 249-269.

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