SEAARC Symposium Abstract 16: Southeast Asia in the Public Works of the Portuguese Oriental Empire (1869-1926)

by Dr. Alice Santiago Faria, CHAM (Centro de História d’Aquém e d’Além-Mar/Portuguese Centre for Global History), Lisbon, Portugal

During the 19th century the territorial presence of the Portuguese in Southeast Asia was reduced to East Timor, which was only an autonomous province in 1896. Before that, the territory was ruled from Macao (from 1863 on), and from India. Therefore, Southeast Asia had no territorial significance to the Portuguese Empire but was a major node with fundamental importance in the connection of East Timor, Macau and Goa.

Established for the first time in all the Portuguese colonial space in  1869, the local Public Works Departments (PWD) were structured according to the needs of each territory. Despite the growing desire for control at the central power, the overall of the structure was maintained until the end of the Portuguese First Republic (1926). The local PWDs were in charge of almost   all the constructions done by the central administration but also by the municipalities and by the church. Therefore playing a central role in the development of these territories. Nevertheless, the Public Works of the empire depended on a central governmental agency that created the institutional framework for different manifestations of mobility (M. Guggenhem and O. Söderström, 2010, 3)  connecting metropolis and colonies transposing empires through the circulation of people, ideas and technology.

This presentation is grounded in my post-doctoral research  that aims to understand how this institution has helped shape the built environment in these different spaces, encouraging their inter-influence. Titled “Building the Portuguese Empire in the 19th century. Public Works across the Indian Ocean and the China Sea, 1869-1926”, the project seems to leave Southeast Asia aside. Thus, in this presentation my aim is to focus the attention in East Timor and Southeast Asia.

Identifying and reconstructing the mobility and circulation networks established between Timor and other different territories of the Portuguese empire and with its geographic neighbors, it will try to understand how these connections shaped the production of its building environment. Showing that Southeast Asia, in fact, was a space of encounters, where locality and transcolonial connection, played an important role.

This presentation will be grounded mainly in  primary sources, gathered in archives, in Lisbon and in Macao. The main sources are personal files of the Public Works technicians (to study the mobility of experts), few existing public works files and the annual reports of the local Public Works Departments.


Alice Santiago Faria (Lisbon, 1970) is currently a researcher at the Portuguese Center for Global History (CHAM – Centro de História d’Aquém e d’Além-Mar), and at the Centro Interuniversitário de História das Ciências e da Tecnologia (CIUHCT), with the project “Building the Portuguese Empire in the 19th century. Public Works across the Indian Ocean and China Sea (1869-1926)” with the support of a postdoctoral fellowship from the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia. She was a visiting fellow at CSISP, Goldsmith College, University of London (2012).

She graduated in Architecture in Coimbra (1997) and has a Ph.D. in History of Art, the Université de Paris I, Panthéon-Sorbonne (2011), with the dissertation titled “L’Architecture Colonial Portugaise à Goa. Le Départment des Travaux Publics, 1840-1926”, (PAF – Presses Académiques Francophones, 2014). Within that framework she was one of the authors in the volume Asia in Portuguese heritage around the world – architecture and urbanism, published by Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian (2010).
She had several teaching experiences (from professional education to university) from 1994 to 2011. In addition to her academic career she shares an architectural office with Pedro Brígida since 1997.

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