The Sciences of Anthropological Classification in “Portuguese Timor”

This project aims to understand the interlaced histories of Portuguese colonialism and the anthropological classification of indigenous peoples, throughout the twentieth century. The study will consider these processes in the context of the sciences of anthropological classification in the Portuguese late colonial period. That is, the epistemic regimes and scientific disciplines aimed at ordering biological, linguistic, and sociocultural differences and affinities between peoples. As such, the study will consider a variety of disciplinary variants, methods and traditions of “anthropology”: from biological anthropology approaches (e.g., craniology; anthropometry; sero-anthropology) to sociocultural streams (e.g., comparative philology; social and cultural anthropology).

This project will take as its main hypothesis that anthropological classifications and social and colonial order have to be approached as interlaced themes and interdependent processes. We will address these wider issues by focusing on a revealing empirical case: the enduring attempts of Portuguese colonial officers, missionaries, and academic anthropologists to classify and chart the “races”, “languages”, and “cultures” of East Timor – formerly named “Portuguese Timor” in the colonial period.

The methodology will be historical and documental. The study will take the form of a series of case-studies, exploring the distinct themes, authors and chronological phases of Portuguese anthropology in Timor and the varied modes of articulating race, language and culture in scientific terms: for example, the ethnographies of the judge Osório de Castro, in the early 1900s; the physical anthropology of Mendes Correia in the 1910s-40s; or the anthropological missions led by António de Almeida in the 1950s-60s.

Main objectives of this project include:

    • Identification and analysis of documentation on anthropological knowledge of Timor produced by colonial officers, officials, and missionaries in Timor from 1894 to 1934.


    • Identification and analysis of documentation on the anthropology of Timor associated with the practitioners (either professional academics, or amateurs) of the “colonial anthropology” school headed by the Porto academic A. Mendes Correia, from 1934 to his death in 1960.


    • Identification and analysis of documentation on anthropology and colonial encounters associated with António de Almeida and the Timor Anthropological Missions, from 1953 to 1975.


    • Identification and analysis of documentation on alternative directions on the anthropology of Timor during the Portuguese colonial period, from the end of the World War II to the date of the Indonesian occupation of Timor, in 1975.


      <p >The project is being developed at the

Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon

      and is funded by the

Foundation of Science and Technology (FCT)

      , Portugal (Reference HC/0089/2009) for the period 2010-2013. It is expected to continue its developments online through this website.

Sponsored by FCT and ICS-UL Laboratório Associado – PEst-OE/SADG/LA0013/2011.

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  • Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia
  • Instituto de Ciências Sociais da Universidade de Lisboa
  • Associated research projects

  • Associated research projects

Exploring Colonial Anthropologies

  • The presence of the Portuguese in Timor, a small island at the end of the Lesser Sunda Islands chain, dates from the mid-sixteenth century. For the next 250 years, Portuguese Catholic missionaries, soldiers, traders, officials, governors, scientists, and military became regular company of the Timorese populations. First based in Lifau (Oecusse), and since 1769 based in Dilly, the Portuguese claimed sovereignty and exercised colonial government over the Eastern half of the island. Today’s nation Republic of Timor-Leste, went by the name of ‘Portuguese Timor’, a colonial province of Portugal, until the Indonesian occupation in 1975. Throughout this long colonial period a great and rich variety of published and unpublished documents was produced by colonial agents.

    From manuscript letters to administrative reports, travelogues, journal articles, or book-length texts, the Portuguese colonial archives offer an abundant field of important material about the past and present of the bodies, languages, and cultures of Timor-Leste peoples. It is this varied and complex colonial material on the history and anthropology of Timor that this research project aims at revealing, exploring, and critically analyze.

    In engaging with these archives, we are concerned not just with how they illuminate former anthropological understandings and colonial encounters between Indigenous and Europeans; we also aim at exploring how they shape current understandings and might help the creation of a post-colonial moment for the history and anthropology of Timor-Leste.

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