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Teaser, summary, work performed and final results

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EMPIREHURIGHTS (Empire and Human Rights: Colonization and Sovereignty in a global Iberian Empire (1580-1640))


This project is about human rights in history. The concept and doctrine of human rights as such are a recent creation, only formulated and codified after World War II. The main purpose of this project was to seek early manifestations and perceptions of human rights, in the way...


This project is about human rights in history. The concept and doctrine of human rights as such are a recent creation, only formulated and codified after World War II. The main purpose of this project was to seek early manifestations and perceptions of human rights, in the way they came into existence in the political and juridical culture of early modern Europe. In order to do so, it took as reference the process of construction of European overseas empires in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Because of its very nature, to this process several issues were inherent that are today considered in the scope of human rights, such as indigenous rights, slavery, religious differences and violence. How did European nations, which were themselves involved in a turmoil of conflicts about their own cultural and religious identity, deal with these problems? How did governments, decision-makers, theologians, jurists, military, merchants and common people who settled overseas, think and act in this regard? And how did the peoples and rulers who watched the arrival of Europeans and suffered the violence of imperial and colonizing processes think and act? This research project was mostly focused on the period 1580-1640, when Portugal and Spain became united under the Catholic Monarchy, thus creating an Iberian empire of an almost-global dimension. This allowed the analysis of a variety of cultural and geopolitical contexts (in Portuguese and Spanish America, Africa, and Asia). It also allowed seeking the roots of human rights problems and conceptions outside the frame of reference (Northern and Protestant Europe) that has been mostly considered by this scholarship. On the other hand, by historicizing the concept of human right, the project hoped to bring some new and different insights to the interdisciplinary approach to this topic, in addition to the perspectives currently offered by international relations, political science and international law.

Work performed

The project EMPIREHURIGHTS consisted mainly in research and training activities, and its work was divided in 8 work packages. Work Package [WP] 1 was dedicated to the discussion of the project\'s scope and objectives and to the incorporation of suggestions from fellow researchers, as well as to the review of relevant literature. WP 2 was focused on archival research and the systematization of information in Portugal and Spain. In the framework of WP3, the information and documents collected have been processed, organized and analysed during and after each research period, being used according to the researcher’s writing agenda. The aim of WP 4 was the monitoring of the project’s progress, which was carried out throughout the project, in close contact with the host institution, CIDEHUS, its director and the researcher’s supervisor. WP 5 consisted in the consolidation of the researcher’s networks and collaborations, which the researcher was able to achieve through the preparation of the digital project, the many contacts she made during the fellowship, specially while organizing scientific events, the invitations received to present her work, as well as her involvement in collaborative projects and funding applications. The purpose of WP 6 was training and acquisition of skills, which the researcher was able to strengthen substantially (theory and methodology, teaching, funding application and project management). WP 7 consisted on the dissemination of results: at the national and international level, the researcher has published 4 articles and has 2 articles, and 2 chapters under preparation; was invited to present her project and work in 7 different academic events; was invited to discuss 2 sessions in two different conferences; presented her work by proposal in 5 conferences; organized 2 conferences and 1 workshop; and also co-organized 11 seminar sessions in a seminar cycle. She is currently preparing 1 source catalogue for publication, 3 edited and co-edited books. Finally, WP 8 was aimed at public engagement.

Final results

The project was focused on four specific, albeit complex and multifaceted, problems: violence, indigenous rights, religious differences and slavery. These were problems inherent to the early modern colonization processes that might be understood today in the scope of human rights. The research carried out demonstrated that decision-makers at all levels of colonial government (i.e. court, metropolises, colonial territories) were forced to consider most of these problems, and the inherent challenges, in their empire-building efforts. Although it might be considered that these discussions were more frequent in what regarded the Spanish colonial government - a vision that might be slightly influenced by the fact that historiography has been keener to study the Spanish cases -, the research has demonstrated that these were discussions that were also often in what regarded the Portuguese colonial government. Since the period under scrutiny is a period when the two Iberian empires were united under the Catholic Monarchy, one may tentatively assume that discussions of the kind regarding the Portuguese colonial government were intensified. On the other hand, discussions on violence, indigenous rights and religious differences were predominant, while discussions on slavery were often only when what was at stake was the enslavement of American native populations. At the decision-making level, it was hard to find discussions on the rights of African slaves, which is tight to the different coeval conceptions of the “other”, in this case, American native populations and African native populations. The research has, thus, concluded, that these problems were permanently equated in the Iberian decision-making processes regarding colonial government and empire-building efforts, something which effectively influenced the evolution of the different territories of the two empires.
The project EMPIREHURIGHTS, and the research that the researcher will carry out after its conclusion - and whose objectives and problems owe much to the research, results and findings carried out and achieved throughout the fellowship - was and will be deeply aligned with the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, namely goals 8, 11 and 16. The project focused deeply on vulnerable social groups and how decision-makers incorporated their demands and dissatisfactions into their political strategies, thus shaping the development of early modern societies. Ultimately, the way in which political agents and decision-makers responded to colonial violence and resistance from below made early modern societies, both metropolitan and colonial, urban and rural, more just, inclusive, sustainable, peaceful, equal, and safer. These lessons from the past, albeit drawn from an imperial context that was violent and unrighteous per se, can make stakeholders of today aware of the power of underprivileged social groups to participate in the design of our global future. This project, and the way in which it will unfold into future research, sought to demonstrate how.

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