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Separated just by the sea

The Millennium Agenda collection brings together Brazilian and Portuguese historians, producing a summary of the field and suggesting the way forward for historical research

Not even the sea could separate us and the Portuguese-Brazilian community of historians has more than enough reason to celebrate. This is the conclusion we reach in reading Brazil-Portugal: History, Agenda for the Millennium (Brasil-Portugal: História, Agenda para o Milênio, organized by the historian José Jobson de Andrade Arruda, professor at USP, Unicamp and University of the Sacred Heart (USC), in Bauru. The book, in which the Portuguese historian Luís Adão da Fonseca also took part, is the result of a mega-meeting of Portuguese and Brazilian historians, around 90 professionals.

“In spite of all the efforts of recent years, the distance between Portugal and Brazil was still very wide. There is the Restoration Project (Projeto Resgate), that searches in Portugal for documents essential to the history of Brazil, but we were concerned with the other side: what to do with this documentation?” explains Jobson Arruda. “For this reason, the idea of setting an agenda whereby, Brazilians and Portuguese could, through joint thinking on given subject matters, come up with these guidelines. This is a concrete attitude, it is not just rhetoric”, he says. What we expect is that this experience will become a seedbed and multiply”, adds the researcher.

If the Agenda is has a programmatic character, looking at the future of research, it does not mean, nonetheless, that is can be reduced to a simple letter of intent. Partnership are already underway such as, for example, the Portugal-Brazil Project: populations and migrations – involving the Study Center for the Demographic History of Latin America (Cedhal), at the University of São Paulo, and the Study Center for Population, Economics and Society (Cepese), at the University of Porto –, as well as vigorous summaries of historiographic production on both sides of the Atlantic, enabling the strengthening of partnerships seeking new paradigms and in the light of renewed historiographic horizons, able to provide greater visibility to this production on an international scale.

According to Jobson, the results could include a Portuguese-Brazilian biographical dictionary on a CD-ROM, a Portuguese-Brazilian history magazine, an electronic bulletin of theMillennium Agenda , containing links to seminars, talks and postgraduate courses in Brazil and in Portugal, as well as a website providing a database of digitized theses at the click of a mouse. And that is not all. History newsgroups covering the Portuguese-Brazilian world, a database of those tried by the Inquisition, a set of digitized magazines indices, a Portuguese-Brazilian bibliographical database organized by subjects, the purchase over the Internet of Portuguese books from a bookstore in Lisbon free of import duty and, to cap it all, postgraduate credits recognized by any Portuguese university are all planned. “Given the quality of the interlocutors and of the project, as well as of the very support the Millennium Agenda gives us, the projects have every chance of come to fruition”, guarantees the professor. “And the Millennium Agenda is an important document in its own right”, he guarantees.

Map of the mine
The book is organized around six large thematic blocks assembling what is good produced by “old” history and “new” history, each one is coordinated by a pair of Brazilian and Portuguese historians. These blocks are: Cultural and Religion, under the coordination of Laura de Mello and Souza and Francisco Bethencourt; Local Dynamics and the World System, by Amado Luiz Cervo and Joaquim Romero Magalhães; Economic History, by Carlos Roberto Antunes dos Santos and Antônio Marques de Almeida; Society and Social Movements, by Zilda Márcia Gricoli Iokoi and José Manuel Tengarrinha; Demography, Family and Migrations, by Eni de Mesquita Samara and Fernando de Souza; and Historiography and Social Memory, by Fernando Antônio Novais and Luís Reis Torgal.

And the book’s 635 pages are not of interest only to postgraduate students, who will undoubtedly find in it a real “map of the mine” to suggest the “golden paths” in historical research. The Nature of the book is prospective and therein lies its dynamic strength, since it sets out paths, establishes projects, bolsters partnerships, suggest translations, encourages controversy, etc. The blocks are not there as straightjackets. The reader can move from one to the other. After all, restoring the history of the Portuguese-Brazilian world means coming to terms with western Christian values and their crisis, with the Renaissance, and with the scientific revolution and, with the legacy of the Enlightenment.

“When we decided to draw up a balance sheet of existing historiographic production, we saw that it was not merely a question of studying the past but also of studying for the future, something prospective: in other words, in relation to what we have done and what we could still do? How could we go further?”, asks the researcher. One of the ways was cross referencing. After all, we cannot contemplate a History of Religion and Culture that fails to include politics andSociety , as well as a study of the new-Christians in Brazil or the action of missionaries cannot overlook Historical Demography, which in turn needs Economic History and Social History and so forth.

Today, we are more global than ever and the hegemonic centers exert a certain homogeneous influence that not everybody has the means of resisting. Local Dynamics in their relationship with the World System may suggest a path to understand what Brazilians, Portuguese, Angolans, have unique in their nationalities, while at the same time as they recognize themselves as part of a universal community, going beyond the Portuguese and the Brazilian. Beyond the peculiarities of the thematic groups and the particular problems of those fields of research, there are common questions running through all the groups involved.

The academic world is also going through intense global interchange. Hence, the great hegemonic research centers dictate the rules of this huge intellectual universe. But it is not impermeable, there are gaps, and we need to be watchful of the opportunities presenting themselves. The language barrier needs to be overcome. “Ours is a minority language in terms of world communication. If our groups that think about of history and think about the history of Brazil and Portugal do not have their work translated into the leading languages, there can be no interaction with these groups, hence the urgency of translating into English a representative sample of Portuguese and Brazilian production in history”, points out Jobson.

The need is no smaller in relation to foreign production, which needs to be translated into Portuguese. The practical effect of the Millennium Agenda on this topic is essential since for each line of investigation the authors list the works that need immediate translation and those that can wait a little longer. But anyone who thinks there are no walls inside the Portuguese and Brazilian world is sadly mistaken. The Portuguese know little of what is produced in terms of history in Brazil, and the same is true the other way round.

Another of the effects of the Millennium Agenda is political and, in this context, a book has just been launched by the vice-president of Portugal, António de Almeida Santos, who is also the president of the Assembly of the Republic. According to professor Jobson, he has had 16 books published in Portugal, and just published a book in Brazil called The Other Side of Hope (Do outro lado da Esperença), and he makes a clear commitment to fight for the implementation of a reversal of this legislation. “But for this to happen, we need the tools. And for these to get into the hands of Portuguese and Brazilians, they have to be here, there, and everywhere. And this policy the Portuguese have regarding books absolutely prevents this happening”, adds Jobson.

As we can see, the community of historians is well aware that the tasks awaiting them are not easy, but this is no reason for settling down into the subterfuge of the much talked about “paradigms crisis”. “You will not go back to the way things were. But you will have a restoration of synthetic history, intertwining the notable contributions of the “old” and the “new” history. Because they can be complementary to one another, they do not necessarily exclude each other, they are not mortal enemies, where one has to bury the other to justify its existence”, says Jobson.

Long-term accomplishments…

Portuguese-Brazilian history magazine
Brazil-Portugal Project: populations and migrations
Portuguese-Brazilian biographical dictionary
Database of those tried by the Inquisition
Continuation of the Recovery Project
Revision of the legislation on the import of Portuguese books
Database of digitized theses

… and in the short-term

Millennium Agenda Bulletin
Establishment of newsgroups
Seminars and talks on the Portuguese-Brazilian world
Portuguese-Brazilian bibliography organized by subject matter
Revision of the Guia Brasileiro of sources for the history of Africa and slavery
Digitization of the indices of the leading magazines and periodicals