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An open window to representations of Science and Technology in the Portuguese Press (1900-1926)

Popularization of science and technology is an established field within the history of science and technology. In the past years, though, the historiography of science popularization is undergoing a crisis. The received view of popular science as a downgraded version of science for lay-consumers does not hold any more. Proposals for critical revisions of the dichotomies built in the characterization of popular science, such as the dichotomy between production and consumption, creativity and passive reception, experts and lay audiences are open for discussion.

So far, contributions to the field have mainly used as primary sources periodicals and books, but have seldom dealt with newspapers. On the other hand, in the national context studies on popularization of science and technology have primarily concentrated on periodicals while newspapers have been used as primary sources for strict historical research works.

This project is an innovative contribution to the field both at the international and national level: it uses new primary sources to provide a fresh look at popularization of science and technology in the European periphery, a largely undervalued sub-field within the larger area of popularization of science and technology. At the theoretical level, the project will contribute to help re-conceptualize the historiographical category of science popularization.

In this project we aim at analyzing the representations of science and technology stemming from the Portuguese generalist press covering a period from the end of the monarchy to the end of the first Republic.

The first decades of the 20th century were particularly eventful from the viewpoint of science and technology in their proper right as well as from the point of view of their impact on society. At the national level, both the end years of the monarchy and especially the First Republic, used science and technology as part of their political agendas and promoted many popularization strategies, at times associated with the adult education movement. However, having in mind the high illiteracy rate of Portugal (around 70% at the turn of the century), which restricts the audience for popularization to an elite of people, we consider that a bottom-up approach is particularly suited and therefore opted to use mainly daily generalist newspapers as our primary sources from which to infer public perceptions of science and technology.

Newspapers were chosen on the basis of their broad ideological scope and geographical locations. Such is the case of Diário de Notícias (founded 1865), Comércio do Porto (f. 1854) and Diário dos Açores (f. 1870). We will further consider the suitability of including additionally culturally oriented newspapers issued in each of the selected cities. In the beginning of the 20th century, both the Oporto’s and Azores' newspapers were part of Portuguese mainstream press, which was politically engaged in a double sense, either by aligning itself with a particular political party, or by making politics its main theme: the Oporto newspaper was a prestigious one of wide circulation and republican leanings; and the islander newspaper represented a sector of the monarchical intelligentsia linked to the Partido Progressista (Progressive Party). On the contrary, the capital city newspaper took a neutral stance from the political point of view as a result of its ideological commitment to a new descriptive trend in journalism counteracting former interpretative news (opinion news). It assumed itself as a popular newspaper, in which political neutrality combined with trivial news. Its main purpose was to eradicate long opinion articles, avoid discussions of political and polemic issues, leaving to the reader the task of forming his own opinion based on factual descriptions of events.



> FCT Project PTDC/HCT/68210/2006

> Coordinating researcher: Ana Simões

> Research opportunities:


> Methodology
> Outcome
> Persons
> Literature

Diário dos Açores de 19 de Julho de 1918. Redactor principal: Vitor Cabral.

Methodologically we will opt for a comprehensive (systematic and extremely time-consuming) survey of the totality of news issued in all newspapers selected during the whole period under study. This option will enable a quantitative approach and hence more reliable conclusions. Based on the senior members' preliminary experience each news will be classified according to a classificatory grid, which encompasses tentatively the following items:

  • Articles
    • Opinion:
      • Opening addresses
      • Others
    • News:
      • Original news
      • Transcriptions:
        • official reports,
        • national or foreign newspapers,
        • with or without comment by the editor
      • Adaptations from national newspapers or from foreign newspapers
    • Advertisments
    • Dramatisation
  • Author (if stated)
    • Employed journalist
    • External collaborator
  • Positioning
    • Page and total page number
    • Section location
    • Number of colums
  • Themes
    • Titles
      • Main
      • Other titles
      • Section title
    • Technical vocabulary (historical keywords, "destaques")
    • National or Foreign;
    • Thematic classification:
      • Science (Astronomy, Natural sciences, Earth sciences, Mathematics, Others)
      • Sanitary science/hygiene, health and medicine;
      • Technology/Innovation (Agriculture, Industry, Communications, Transport system, Urban Life, Fine arts and performing arts, Medicine, Others)
    • Professional identity / Associations / Scientific Institutions / Societies ;
    • Congresses;
    • Museums;
    • Exhibits;
    • Travels/ Scientific Expeditions;
    • Popularization of science; Scientific Education;
    • Publications on science;
    • Women;
    • Personalities/Individuals;
    • Accidents, risks and anomalies;
    • Others.


From our previous experience major thematic areas will emerge such as:

  • introduction of new technologies;
  • innovations in science;
  • Hygiene, health and medicine;
  • science and natural phenomena;
  • science and religion;
  • women, gender and science;
  • science in the local public arena.

In order to handle the huge amount of news surveyed, each will be summarized or transcribed (partially or integrally) or scanned according to relevance. An on-line database will be created to house entries for each of the news. Back-and-forth adjustments (following say, the first 1000 news surveyed) will ensure adequacy of preliminary classificatory grid and thematic divisions.

From a detailed comparative analysis of database contents conclusions about public images of science and technology in a country of the European periphery will emerge. They will be used to highlight different models of popularization of science and technology adopted by each newspaper under scrutiny according to particular ideological stance and geographical location (that is, peripheral status). Furthermore, they will enable us to generally reconstruct the cultural life of three different cities of a peripheral country and specifically to unveil how scientific culture integrated their respective lives.



A Folha, Ponta Delgada, Azores, of 11 January 1903.


The main objective of this project is to analyze public perceptions of science and technology in a country of the European periphery with an extreme high illiteracy rate during the first decades of the 20th century by using a comparative method based on the contrast of news issued in newspapers of different political orientations and geographical provenance. It will enable to assess what specific characteristics are associated with practices of popularization in a peripheral country such as Portugal, including expectations of editors and publishers and the delineation of (potential or real) profiles of audiences for science and technology. At a theoretical level, it will be a starting point for a historiographical analysis of the drawbacks of popularization as a historiographical category, rather than a historical one.

At the national level, it aims at contributing to unveil the role and functions of science in a peripheral country during a period which voiced consistently an ideology in which science played a crucial role, to assess differences between ideological aims, the rhetoric of scientism, daily practices and their outcomes by using a bottom-up methodology. At the international level, it aims at contributing to prepare the ground for a comparative study of the views on science and technology as voiced in newspapers at the dawn of the 20th century in different countries of the European peripheries – Greece, Spain and Portugal. This is a project integrated in one of the research lines pushed forward by the international STEP group (Science and Technology in the European Peripheries, see http://www.step.uoa.gr; http://www.uv.es/comic/step5 ).




Research Team





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  Última actualização 19-03-09