A ciência ao serviço do império: Andrade Corvo, Barbosa du Bocage e a defesa das pretensões coloniais portuguesas em África

Translated title of the contribution: Science in the Service of Empire: Andrade Corvo, Barbosa du Bocage and the defense of Portuguese colonial aspirations in Africa

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This chapter explores the ways in which science was deployed to control Portuguese colonial territories in the 19th century, and the roles that some personalities with a scientific background played in the definition of colonial policies and related diplomatic negotiations.
In the first decades of the 19th century, the Portuguese colonial empire underwent a major transformation. The loss of Brazil, its most profitable colony, drove some members of the Portuguese elite, most notably the military commander Sá da Bandeira, to turn their attention to the African colonies. In spite of the initiatives undertaken by Bandeira for their expansion and development in the 1850s, the lack of support from his peers, tied to some disastrous military losses, discredited his colonialist plans. It was not until the 1870s, after the rise of João de Andrade Corvo as the new minister of foreign affairs, that colonialism returned to the political agenda. A professor of botany and agriculture at higher education institutions, Corvo was introduced to political circles by a politically active colleague and established his reputation by contributing to solve problems related to the organization of the Portuguese agricultural territory.
In the late 1860s, and especially due to the Franco-Prussian war, he became interested in foreign policy, fearing the loss of Portugal’s autonomy in a Europe dominated by the rule of increasingly vaster and stronger states. Corvo envisioned a new and consistent foreign policy hold together by a network of diplomatic and economic treaties, but diplomatic conflicts with Britain regarding
the influence over colonial territories in Africa, as well as pressures from a segment of the Portuguese elite, prompted him to pay more attention to colonial
policies. He promoted initiatives that aimed at confirming Portuguese sovereignty in Angola and Mozambique, the most important African colonies, such as sending engineers there to build infrastructures and a scientific expedition for the study of African geography, measures that reflected his understanding of the relevance of technoscientific knowledge for political ends. Corvo’s initiatives had a limited success, and after taking some unpopular decisions he was barred from similar governmental positions.
It was only in 1883, when the zoologist José Vicente Barbosa du Bocage held
important governmental offices, that new colonial policies were implemented.
Bocage had attained international prestige as a specialist in South African
fauna, and he became acquainted with the Portuguese colonial reality in Africa
because his finest collaborator often made remarks about their administration,
aside from sending specimens. Bocage was introduced to politics probably by
Corvo, who was his colleague, and while in office he passed reforms on colonial
administration and played an important diplomatic role in the negotiations
on the partition of the Congo region, which culminated in the Berlin Conference
of 1884—5, as well as on the attempt to annex the territories between
Angola and Mozambique. Although the results of Corvo’s and Bocage’s efforts were far from their aspirations, it is likely that Portuguese colonialist
gains would be smaller were it not for their important interventions.
Translated title of the contributionScience in the Service of Empire: Andrade Corvo, Barbosa du Bocage and the defense of Portuguese colonial aspirations in Africa
Original languagePortuguese
Title of host publicationCiência, Tecnologia e Medicina na Construção de Portugal: Volume 3: Identidade e «Missão Civilizadora»
EditorsAna Carneiro, Teresa Salomé Mota, Isabel Amaral
Place of PublicationLisbon
PublisherTinta da China
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)978-989-671-598-4
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020


  • Portuguese colonial empire
  • Scramble for Africa
  • Berlin Conference
  • João de Andrade Corvo
  • José Vicente Barbosa du Bocage


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