Image-Driven Scholarship

In this website, Portugal's Estado Novo (1933-1974) is looked at through the historical visual record of the period. Digital history offers new ways to understand the past. As archives are digitized, images can be collected and arranged to convey history that speaks to the visual, as well as verbal, senses. Visualizing Portugal is comprised of thematic visual narratives that stimulate resonating ideas, memories, research, image streams, and topics.

1940 Exposition of the Portuguese-Speaking World, 1940. photograph: Horácio Novais. [CFT164_01200] Gulbenkian Foundation (cropped)

Visual Narrative

“Seeing” history as opposed to reading history comes with the sometimes contrary nuances of our visual sense. Patterns can be observed in the assembled visual record that reveal complexities often difficult to convey or even overlooked in traditional text-based research. For the viewer, the world of the past is evoked here through direct contact with primary sources. Immersion in primary sources is usually experienced only by historians who analyze and distill the material into historical narrative. Readers of visual images will need to learn some of the historian's caution and sensitivity in dealing with sources. The speed at which visual images are perceived is both powerful and problematic. Perception bypasses informational filters that modulate a viewer’s reactions. Images can be easily misunderstood and emotional responses are unavoidable. As images proliferate in digital formats, greater expertise in “reading” and sharing historical imagery through new media forms will grow. 

Sources

The Gulbenkian Foundation's collection of photographs from the Estado Novo period — most from the studios of Mário and Horácio Novais — is a large resource for the visual narratives presented on the site. We have also digitized images from children's schoolbooks from the New State period to explore the themes that helped shape young minds in embracing the vision of family and religion advocated by the Salazar regime. 

Photographer Horácio Novais, 1931. [CFT164_002024] Gulbenkian Collection

Another source for visual media on the website is Portugal's Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo (National Archive of Torre do Tombo). Tourist posters and other media produced under the department of propaganda (SNP/SNI) reveal the image Portugal projected to the outside world as a mecca of sun and peace, tranquility and tradition, far from the fighting and aftermath of the brutal second world war.


Units

Thematic units include:

  • The Image of António de Oliveira Salazar
  • Education and Ideology in the New State
  • Mocidade Portuguesa: Youth Groups
  • Mocidade Portuguesa Feminina: Youth Groups
  • The 1940 Exposition of the Portuguese-Speaking World
  • Art and Ideology Under the SPN/SNI
  • Decálogo do Estado Novo & the New Constitution
  • Revering History
  • Revering Tradition
  • Religion & the Miracle of Fátima
  • No Rain in Portugal: Tourism Posters
  • Opposition & Seizure of the "Santa Maria"
  • Censorship & Media
  • From Colonies to Provinces

Units are divided into three parts:

  • Visual Narratives;
  • Texts presented in short excerpts that link to full articles, using the lively range of critical response in the greater digital field; 
  • Video clips, when available.

Essays are also published here for the first time.

Themes and Media

The visual record of the Estado Novo period is predominantly imagery sanctioned by the Salazar regime. The posters, schoolbooks, and events orchestrated by the SNP (later SNI) — the regime's office of propaganda and information — promoted a "Salazarist" vision of Portugal and what it meant to be Portuguese based on the core values of "Deus, Pátria, Família" (God, Fatherland, Family). How the superb group of artists enlisted by the regime responded to political censorship can be studied in their works. The large collection of austere black-and-white photographs produced by the studios of brothers Mário and Horácio Novais present the architecture and pageantry of the New State in formal, self-consciously historical documentation.  

The visual archive suggests different flavors for the early part of the century and the years of the New State. Photos from the 1920s show people enjoying fast cars, fine dining, and a lively social scene. Under the New State, “Modern Girl” personas gave way to conservative, modest dresses and youth group uniforms, formal state pageantry, folkloric revival, and, it seems, often empty streets.

Ball in the Navy League, Lisbon. Photographer: Mário Novais. c. 1920. [CFT003_051416] Gulbenkian Foundation

The contradictory stance between conservative values and the constructivist modernity of the architecture, art and graphics, was grounded in the reinvention of a mythic past. The imagery of the New State mythologizes Portugal's history of maritime exploration and empire, recycling the past to forge the modern image of a heroic race destined to lead the nation toward a successful future that includes an overseas empire. 

Recycling a romanticized, mythic past as a way to fuel a nationalistic vision of the future, was an approach used in Japan in the early 1900s described by John W. Dower in the Visualizing Cultures unit “Asia Rising." Images helped build public support for reinstating the Meiji emperor and for increased militarization based on a martial past. In a Visual Narrative titled, “Reinventing the Martial Tradition,” Dower writes:

"Motifs of Postcards of the Battle of the Japan Sea," 1906. Visualizing Cultures [2002.3582] Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Link to view Visual Narrative on Visualizing Cultures website.

“In the immediate aftermath of the war, however, nationalists and idealogues deemed it necessary to counter the vogue of Westernization and modernization by reemphasizing the nation's “unique” virtues and values. This entailed ransacking the past for images from the samurai tradition, and from the early myths concerning the divine origins of the land and the imperial dynasty.”

Opposition to the New State government and ideology can be found domestically in the 1960s imagery of protests covered by the press, political prisoners and censorship in the files of the PIDE (Polícia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado); overseas in Portugal's colonial provinces; and by observing the large wave of emigration.

Rather then beginning with explanations and conclusions, we begin by looking and allow our understanding and questions about the Estado Novo to grow from there.

— Ellen Sebring, MIT Visualizing Cultures & Executive Director, Visualizing Portugal