Law in History: agents, categories and representations

Law in History: agents, categories and representations
To promote the critical study of the History of Portuguese Law and Administration through the selection of the most significant moments and aspects of pre-modern, modern and contemporary ages.


History of Law
History of Public Administration
Legal classifications
Legal and social representations

Participating institutions to which the research group belongs:

NOVA School of Law
Instituto de História Contemporânea


Ana Cristina Fonseca Nogueira da Silva (Principal Investigator)
António Manuel Botelho Hespanha
Joana Estorninho de Almeida
Luís Pedroso de Lima Cabral de Oliveira
Nuno Miguel de Moraes Pestana Tarouca Camarinhas


Pedro Aires Ribeiro da Cunha Oliveira
Paulo Jorge Chalante Azevedo Fernandes

Structure of the research group:

The research group “Law in History: agents, categories and representations” was constituted taking into account the plan for the future research strategy of CEDIS. The study of legal phenomena and their relationship with the formation of States over time, as well as the construction of digital tools on the historical sources of law and administration in Portugal has already been one of the central points of study and research activities by the CEDIS team, and these activities were carried out in the context of several research sub-projects. However, the existence of common research and methodological interests as well as the results achieved – both publications and important digital collections of historical administrative and legal documents – justify the formation of an autonomous research group.

The main goal of the research group is the critical study of the Portuguese History of Law and Administration through the selection of the most significant moments and aspects of pre-modern, modern and contemporary ages. The main topics to be developed are thus: legal sources in pre-modern (Sofia Valdez) and modern times (António Manuel Hespanha); social images and careers of jurists and State agents in the metropolitan (Joana Estorninho de Almeida) and colonial territories (Nuno Camarinhas); legal classification and social status, as well as related phenomena of legal hybridism in contemporary colonial contexts (Ana Cristina Nogueira da Silva, Luís Cabral de Oliveira).

Ana Cristina Nogueira da Silva will be the researcher responsible for the group since both her role in CEDIS and her research are at the intersection of the different topics that will be developed by the individual team members. Nevertheless, the central objective is to promote horizontal collaboration between the various researchers in order to intensify the exchange of methodologies, problems and findings, as well as the effectiveness and impact of the results.

This main goal will be pursued through the regular organisation of a seminar, called “Law in History”, which will take place at least every year and will be both closed, in that only the members of this team will have a seat, but open, with the occasional invitation of external participants as well as other speakers to jointly examine specific research topics. In the seminar, debates will give priority to topics that cut across all lines of research within the group, such as the use of non-legal sources in the History of Law or the importance of theoretical apparatus and international debates for the study of colonial legal systems, in order to pursue the development of innovative and highly topical legal-historical research, as is, in fact, the tradition of CEDIS, namely through the work and example of Professor António Manuel Hespanha.

At the same time, the group will promote workshops to improve the efficiency of digital databases and websites containing historical legal sources, as well as promote the dissemination of their use.

Objectives of the research group:

The research group will make use of the experience of its members in order to pursue continuous innovation in the area of legal-historical studies, namely through the selection of topics of particular relevance over time.

As far as modernity is concerned, these topics will be: Biblical sources of a first modern public international law (Sofia Valdez); Law agents and texts, and their circulation between metropolitan and overseas territories within Portuguese territories, as well as their reception in different cultural and administrative ambiences (Nuno Camarinhas, António Manuel Hespanha). The administrative and cultural impact of these agents in subsequent eras will also be highlighted as well as their role in the construction of the modern and colonial state (Joana Estorninho de Almeida, Nuno Camarinhas). As far as the construction of the modern Portuguese state is concerned, the influence of legal texts, the role of state agents and the impact of social representations of public power will be discussed (Joana Estorninho de Almeida). The social construction of identities, namely threshold identities, through the categorisation of colonial populations, as well as the transformations undergone by Portuguese Law during its reception and application in native populations will be another of the topics to be developed in order to allow for a better understanding of the performative power of Law in contemporary Portuguese colonial societies in Africa (Ana Cristina Nogueira da Silva) and Asia (Luís Cabral de Oliveira).

This group plans to produce the following results:

  • The improvement of the already existing Digital Library with regard to its collection and its search engine;
  • The completion of the digital platform on Portuguese historical legislation, particularly its colonial branch, improving the indexation of the information already available and adding more information, namely: a) adding vols. from 1910 to 1933 to the collection of Novíssima Novíssima do Ultramar Legislation (1834-1910); b) adding Portuguese labour law from the liberal period until 1975 to the already available norms (Project “Trabalhadores e Trabalho no Brasil, Portugal e na África Colonial Portuguesa”, 1521-1988).
  • Complete the website on “Banco de memória sobre a brocracia portuguesa. Images, texts and objects about the Portuguese Public Administration”.
  • The signing of a protocol between CEDIS, the Max-Planck Institute for the History of European Law (Germany), the University of São Paulo, the Federal University of Santa Catarina, the Federal University of Paraná and the Federal University of Ceará, which is already under negotiation in order to lead to the production of a bio-bibliographical database of book access on Portuguese legal authors (16th to 18th centuries).
  • Producing an online version of an encyclopaedic dictionary on Portuguese magistrates (12th to 18th centuries) – Memorial de Ministros – which will be the result of the transcription and critical edition of an 18th century manuscript.
  • The development of an open-access online atlas that maps the apparatus of Portuguese colonial justice in its early modern times, combining network data with geographical information systems.
  • Publications on Law: in the Ancien Regime a description of the Portuguese ius commune (Theatrum iuris communis lusitani, António Manuel Hespanha); in the contemporary period – Law and liminal identities in Mozambican colonial society (1914-1961), Law, society and local elites in Goa (1770-1870), Portuguese judges, local elites and parliamentarians in Angola (circa 1860) and parliamentarians during the 19th century born in Goa (books).
  • Collaboration in the preparation of two collective books on comparative approaches in Iberian imperial experiences, as well as other publications in national and international peer-reviewed journals.
  • Organization of scientific meetings on the subjects studied by this project, namely: an international meeting on colonial judicial administration and local government; and organization of an international seminar on the legal nature of public service between the Ancien Regime and the modern state.