Portuguese Railways: a history of circulation, appropriation and globalization

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Construction of railways in Portugal began in 1853 as an application of Saint-simonianism. Throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, Portugal sought to reduce distances to Europe and within its own territory, and to place itself in the path of progress. One of the main goals of the investment was to connect Lisbon to the commercial flows from Central Europe: Overcoming national boundaries, railways should turn the harbour of the Portuguese capital into a cornerstone in global commerce. Simultaneously, railways should overcome the geographical obstacles of the Portuguese territory and contribute to unify the country. From the 1880s, this framework was applied in the Portuguese colonies of Africa, to legitimate the Portuguese presence in those areas, to assert Portugal as an imperial nation and to promote colonization and economic exploration of the colonial resources. In the eve of World War I, railways spread throughout 3000 km in the mainland and over 3500 km in Angola and Mozambique. In this paper, we will analyse this process using three crucial concepts in History of Technology: circulation, appropriation, and globalization. We argue that the implementation of railways in the Portuguese territories was a product of circulation of technical and financial capital from the European core to the European (ultra-)periphery; Additionally, we argue that railways promoted circulation of people, goods, and ideas in areas that were previously devoid of efficient transportation and mobility systems. Therefore, we argue that railways favoured the territorial appropriation of these regions, by encouraging a repetitive use of an area perceived as rightfully Portuguese. Finally, we argue that Portuguese railways acted as portals of globalization, as places that promoted commerce, communication, and cultural transfers at a global level. We aim to contribute to the debate about the importance of technology for the reinvention of peripheral countries as technological nations.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 27 Oct 2018
EventT2M Annual Meeting: Boom, Bust and What After? - University of Concordia, Montreal, Canada
Duration: 24 Oct 201827 Oct 2018


ConferenceT2M Annual Meeting


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