Guardians of an industrial memory

Guardians of an industrial memory

The mission of industrial archaeologists is to discover, protect, safeguard, preserve and value Portuguese industrial heritage

The study of industrial heritage is multi-faceted. The discipline of Industrial Archaeology was created in 1955 in the United Kingdom in order to study the phenomena of industrialisation, which are not only industrial, as well as phenomena associated with transportation, social organisation, ports, automation of industry in the fields (agriculture) and even subjects directly related to the importance of raw materials that were necessary to industry.

This work is crucial because is raises awareness regarding the need to safeguard, preserve and value the heritage that industry and industrial society created. There is still a great amount of assets associated with technical aspects, referred to as technical heritage, which also needs to be preserved since it is related to the oldest professions in industry, such as workshops, manufacturing, devices, energies, machinery and technical systems.

In Portugal, Industrial Archaeology began between the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s. The major event to mark the establishment of this field was the exhibition that took place at the Tejo Power Station (1985), dedicated specifically to the discovery of industrial archaeology and its preservation. The power plant opened as a museum, called the Museu da Eletricidade (Electricity Museum), in 1990, serving as an emblem of this scientific discipline, with a team that studies these fields and specialises in electric history and heritage. There are other industrial museums of great quality, such as Lanifícios (Wool ) in Covilhã, Museu do Papel (Paper Museum), etc. or other places to visit such as the Real Fábrica do Gelo (Royal Ice Factory) in Serra de Montejunto, which is rarely visited despite its classification as a national monument.

These examples are just a sample of the outstanding work that has been developed in Portugal to preserve the country’s industrial legacy and the effects of industrialised society. “There are approximately 100 industrial and mining museums in the country.” This number is provided by the professor and researcher at Instituto de História Contemporânea (Institute of Contemporary History) at Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Jorge Custódio. He is one of the people to have dedicated the most time to studying and promoting Industrial Archaeology in Portugal.

He is responsible for leading the team that studies and analyses the 130 years of Caima, since its establishment to the current day, with the implications and technological progress that have marked the group’s development, as well as the impact these evolutionary processes had on life in Albergaria-a-Velha at its origin and later on, with the relocation of the factory to Constância.

Jorge Custódio is the coordinator and lead writer of a book on Caima’s history, which he explains is an investigation based on more than a concept of historic research. “This research includes other types of sources, adding to the documental sources, which are generally the most widely used by historians, other origins of information such as photographs, cartographic documentation, among other materials, and the study of the factories themselves.”

The team of researchers also includes Sofia Costa Macedo, a professor of Cultural Heritage at ISCTE, associate researcher at CIES – Centro de Investigação, de Estudos de Sociologia (Centre for Research, Studies & Sociology) and member of the board of directors at APAI – Associação Portuguesa de Arqueologia Industrial (Portuguese Association for Industrial Archaeology), as well as Susana Pacheco, a Master of Industrial Archaeology who collaborates with the Robinson Foundation in Portalegre, both researchers on the project.

Caima’s project unites three different generations of researchers who are dedicated to the preservation of industrial heritage. These are a kind of guardians of an industrial memory of a country whose public opinion continues to ignore that there is an active industrial fabric spread across the national territory.