Portuguese manuals with discoveries in an epic tone but without ignoring slavery

According to the president of the History Teachers Association

Portuguese manuals continue to present the discoveries in an epic tone, which reached its peak in the Estado Novo, but now consider slavery as a dark page in the history of Portugal, according to the president of the Association of History Teachers.

Miguel Monteiro de Barros considers that the Portuguese discoveries are the most divisive topic in the history of Portugal and that this can be seen in the classroom, with more or less heated discussions.

«It's a divisive topic, because it's in the media. They [the students], in one way or another, came into contact with the fractures and dissensions that exist around the topic; they heard about the graffiti on monuments, whether in the Padrão dos Descobrimentos or in that ridiculous monument in front of the São Roque museum » (statue of Father António Vieira, which was vandalized), he said.

This professor, who has investigated topics such as racism and slavery, advocates a classroom in which students share their previous ideas about the topics, to open the discussion.

«Some Portuguese students may have even heard about the Portuguese discoveries and expansion, but the majority of those students [with ancestors in the former colonies] have a completely different vision of the arrival of the Portuguese to the lands where their parents they are original», he said.

And he continued: «There were often discussions in the classroom, not so much with African students, but more with Brazilians, about the issue of finding and discovery, the issue of there already being indigenous peoples in Brazil», he said.

For Miguel Monteiro de Barros, it is easy to explain the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, built “in the context of the Estado Novo” (1940). “It is already difficult, very difficult, to explain or try to justify the monument to Father António Vieira, in front of the São Roque Museum», in Lisbon, opened in 2017.

The teacher highlighted that 2016 represented a milestone for updating content that, since then, no longer had that epic tone.

The same did not happen in the manuals, in which the approach to the discoveries “did not change much”, with the changes being “specific aspects that were, in the meantime, clarified by historiography”.

Taking into account “the manualization of teaching” that exists in Portugal, in which teachers begin to “assume the manual as a program”, the epic narrative continues to be recorded.

But now, and also as a result of the proposals presented in 2016, the manuals work on the theme of the discoveries “the violent submission of different peoples” and recognize that “slavery was a negative process, basically, and that it is a dark part of the page of history of Europe and the history of Portugal”.

A split in relation to what the manuals advocated in the Estado Novo, in which teachers and students were indoctrinated that Portuguese colonialism was not even the worst, with arguments such as the absence of apartheid, the fact that the Portuguese mixed together and “all these clichés” that presented the Portuguese as extraordinary colonizers.

«All of this is manipulation, it has to do with the Estado Novo. The Estado Novo propaganda machine was very powerful and they managed to install these ideas in the Portuguese population,” he said.