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Brief of the workshop

“Cross-disciplinary methodologies: When Communication and History come together”

​Date: 10 janeiro 2019
Venue: Universidade Católica Portuguesa


Researching Media History: Carolyn Birdsall, Hans-Ulrich Wagner, Ana Isabel Reis, Luís Trindade, Maria Inácia Rezola

The research project “Broadcasting in the Portuguese Empire: Nationalism, Colonialism and Identity” (BiPE) kicked off on January 10th 2019 with its first international workshop dedicated to the discussion of “Cross-disciplinary methodologies: When Communication and History come together”. The event took place at the Universidade Católica Portuguesa, and it offered a brilliant opportunity for vibrant and exciting discussions around the theme of European imperial and colonial radio histories, as well as on different epistemological and methodological research approaches to media history, including on media archive work. The latter was particularly focused on the Portuguese media and colonial archival landscape as a specific case perspective. The workshop was organised in panel sessions and roundtables producing very thought-provoking discussions between the participants and between these and a keen audience.

Peter Hanenberg, the director of the Research Center for Communication and Culture, within the Faculty of Human Sciences, which hosts the project, welcomed all the participants and underlined the interdisciplinary character of the research project. In his view, BiPE will allow for thinking of “the media both as source and an object of history”. Nelson Ribeiro (Universidade Católica Portuguesa), the Principal Investigator of the research project, started by presenting the BiPE’s main research arguments, goals and approaches, as well as the research team, who includes Sílvio Santos (Universidade de Coimbra), Rogério Santos (Universidade Católica Portuguesa), Ana Isabel Reis (Universidade do Porto), Catarina Valdigem (Universidade Católica Portuguesa), Simon Potter (University of Bristol) and Vincent Kuitenbrouwer, University of Amsterdam). Nelson argued that the study of the media within the imperial projects has been primarily focused on the metropolitan perspective, ignoring how the media have actually operated within the colonial territories, and more importantly how have they projected the empire from within. The BiPE thus intends partly to answer this question by looking into the importance of the many Radio Clubs set up within the Portuguese colonial territories in broadcasting within and to the empire, in the light of the little investment of the Portuguese central government in broadcasting. Nelson also stressed that while seeking comparative view with other colonial geographies, BiPE also aims to look into the unique features of broadcasting within the Portuguese colonial context. It thus remains crucial to analyse the role of colonial radio broadcasts within the Portuguese empire, not exclusively but also, during the colonial war (1961-1974). For that purpose the research team will be conducting both documental and archival research on the colonial radio policies, practices, logic, and undertaking an oral history approach to professional colonial broadcasting and radio practices. A few radio programmes will also be analysed as to understand better their role in shaping the colonial project and identities.

Silvio Santos chaired the first panel of the workshop “Researching Broadcasting and Empire” which provided a comparative approach to histories of different European Imperial and Colonial Broadcasting cases, namely the British, the Dutch and the French. Simon Potter (University of Bristol) presented the audience with important conceptual and epistemological questions in his talk on “Broadcasting in the British Empire: Sources and debates”. In supporting of a comparative research agenda on History of both Imperial and Colonial Broadcasting, Simon started by stressing the extent to which Radio history has been fundamentally Eurocentric, with a clear focus on the BBC and on Commercial Broadcasting in the USA. He also interrogated whether there is still room to conduct research of the History of the Empire and the History of Broadcasting in the British Empire, insofar as this object has been, according to him, overtaken by different fields of study alongside research trends and perspectives, such as Cultural Studies, Postcolonial Critique, and more recently the History of Globalization. Finding this diversion and appropriation of the field History of the Empire problematic, Simon explained that there was a risk of losing a whole object of research.

Furthermore, according to him, it is equally important to think and research about Colonial History and about Colonial Radio History in order to break with the hegemony of the national perspective with this regard, and to be able to make a distinction between two quite important topics and epistemological research objects: Colonial Broadcasting and Imperial Broadcasting. While epistemologically productive and useful in comparative research such a difference is also crucial, in the British case, to the decentralising of the focus from the BBC onto other local and colonial experiences. As he mentioned, like in the case of the Portuguese case, there were also Radio Clubs in the British colonial territories and imperial domains. However - he stressed - there is nothing written about them, partly due to the lack of primary source materials in the British Archives. The researcher took nevertheless the opportunity to draw upon a few historical, political, economic and technological contingencies, circumstances and models that marked the first colonial broadcasting steps across different points of the British empire, from former Ceylon to the Falkland Islands.