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For a long time, European historiography has been associating empire building processes almost exclusively with state policies and institutions. Historical outcomes of the early modern empires tended to be focused predominantly on central power strategies and imperial rivalries, monopolies, warfare strategies and political disputes between European colonisers. This ended up by feeding a nationalist and Eurocentric analysis of empire building which cannot fully explain the rise of a Global Age in the Early Modern Period. It cannot explain the world-wide scale of communications, the building of multicultural societies, or even the global transfers between oceans and continents.

This brings up a new set of research questions and hypotheses which many researchers in colonial studies are beginning to ask. Could it be that the sustainability of empires, in particular the Portuguese multicontinental overseas empire, are based on the commoners and their entrepreneurial initiatives as much as on central powers policies, military and commercial strategies? Could it be that European empires were also, and maybe even predominantly, sustained by cooperative patterns and agent-based networks? If this turned out to be true, historians would have to leave aside the strict focus on the structures, on the systems, on the State, and on the macro level. Rather, future research would have to concentrate its attention on individuals and their web of connections.

Amélia Polónia is a Professor at the Department of History, Political and International Studies of the Faculty of Arts of the University of Porto. She is currently the scientific coordinator of the Intersdisciplinary Research Centre Culture, Space and Memory (CITCEM - UP).

Her scientific interests include social and economic networks in the Early Modern Age. Seaports history, migrations, transfers and flows between different continents and oceans, informal mechanisms of empire building, women as brokers and go-betweens in overseas empires and the environmental implications of  European colonization are key-subjects of her current research.

For more information: EFDC andónia_Amélia

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