The Dictionary of Portuguese Historians, available online at the websites of the National Library of Portugal (BNP) and the History Centre at the University of Lisbon, meets a long-standing need within the social sciences in Portugal. It aims to broaden awareness of Portuguese historians and their perspectives on historical knowledge, of theories and currents within historiography, of historical and scientific associations and the journals and publications linked to them. It aims to be a reference work, making available information that will be of use to researchers and to those interested in the history of history, explaining the thinking of historians (some of them now forgotten) who were active up to the 1970s, and tracing general trends in historiography, as produced in different fields of knowledge. The period chosen takes into account the role that the Royal Academy of Sciences (founded 1779) played, alongside the University of Coimbra, in promoting the study of history, and establishing a conception of history as a science. In its turn, the year 1974 — with the restoration of democracy in Portugal — marks another milestone, after which a historiographical approach born in the 1940s was reinvigorated in many different ways, with a significant widening of the field of studies, and a greater openness to the broader international community of historians.
The Dictionary considers historiography in a broad sense, taking in varying concepts of history and ways of writing it, thereby crossing frontiers — more often than not artificial — with other social sciences: philosophy, geography, anthropology, economics, linguistics, law studies, literary studies and pedagogy. Over the two centuries under consideration we find many different kinds of historian, from the erudite academic, careful to establish the authenticity of documents, to the autodidact, who takes on a whole variety of approaches, not forgetting the professional historian, trained in specialized institutions, and the contribution of the essayist. The Dictionary will reflect this very wide range of authors, of backgrounds, and of very different intellectual careers, in a country in which the professionalization of historical studies came late, compared to other European nations such as Germany or France — many of the great historians of the first half of the twentieth century still being autodidacts. It will establish contextual connections with the problems of the times in which they lived, the cultural environment and the polemics in which they were engaged, the relationship with historical thinking internationally, as well as the afterlife of their works. It will also include a selection of historians of other nationalities who studied the history of Portugal, some of whom contributed decisively to renewing and broadening knowledge of this subject around the world.
The history of history and theoretical considerations of the discipline have been developed over the last two centuries through the writings of some of the most distinguished historians and interpreters of Portuguese society and its outlook, from those, such as Alexandre Herculano, linked to the Royal Academy of Sciences (or the Lisbon Academy of Sciences, as it became known after the fall of the monarchy, in 1910) up to our times. Is it possible, even, to write high-quality history without reflecting on a craft that has contributed so much to broadening our understanding of the national experience, to deepening the awareness that each of us has of ourselves, and of the community in which we find ourselves living? The answer is clearly no: what is assembled here is an irreducible plurality of points of view, theories and interpretations of the past in Portuguese society, the essential point of departure for taking stock of problems and constructing new pathways of investigation and knowledge.
Drawing on a very varied team of contributors, the Dictionary aims to take its place in this lineage. It has been under production since 2011, and will be progressively available online, in both Portuguese and English. New entries will be regularly added, enabling the Dictionary to benefit from suggestions and criticisms made by its readers. This will lead eventually to the production of a book. At the time of writing there are already some 150 entries available on the website of the National Library, of both a biographical and a thematic nature.
Sérgio Campos Matos