WHAlands – Whaling Heritage in the Atlantic islands: America, the Azores and Cape Verde entangled by the sea (19th-21st centuries)

Principal researcher: Carmo Daun e Lorena

Research group: Practices and Politics of Culture


Class |Mobility | identity | Social memory

Funding Institution

Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia



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During the 19th century, Azoreans and Cape Verdeans had a pivotal role in the American whaling industry. Both were islanders and Portuguese, although very different from each other. Looking into the similarities and differences of this collective will allow to explore the articulation between mobilities and identities. In the 21st century, that whaling past is still in action and plays a central part in the collective memory and in heritage discourses and practices on the islands.
WHAlands will integrate these two levels of analysis thus offering a multifaceted understanding of whaling. On the one hand, it will focus on the lives, transits and settlements of these whalemen in the North Atlantic, from the early 19th century to the mid-20th century, which comprises the peak and decline of the American whaling industry and the period during which Cape Verdeans and Azoreans became its main protagonists. On the other hand, it will address the contemporary processes related to memory and heritage in both countries, unraveling the forms of appropriation and reconfiguration of that whaling tradition, which left a permanent mark in the maritime communities. Considering that social memory is always partial and selective, WHAlands will examine the ways heritage is used in the remembering and forgetting interplays, as well as in the construction of identity. The current heritagization processes of whaling, largely enhanced by the tourism industry, are based on that past. However, what survives are only fragments of it, as heritage is the reworking of the past in the present.
The whaling history of these two tiny Atlantic archipelagos (isolated and peripheral yet crucial in the past world economy) can be very elucidative about the interconnectedness of global and local scales, disclosing the entangled histories of empires, nations, societies and cultures in the Atlantic world. Seafaring is more than a transitory experience. Oceanic journeys forge social relations and promote cultural transfers and conflicts. The sea divides and unites the world but it is also the ground for new social worlds. And in the present, the sea not only connects people and places to each other, but also to their pasts.
By taking the sea, that tied these places and people, as an outstanding field of inquiry, and as a laboratory of a new social order through which it is possible to examine different groups, relations and processes, WHAlands will draw close attention to these Portuguese whalers (from colonial and metropolitan origins) and their experiences of moving and settling, as well as to the persistence of this whaling past in the present.
The main objectives of this transnational and multi-sited research are to build a social history of the Portuguese Atlantic whalers and of their lives across the sea and elaborate an ethnographic study of the present uses of this past, investigating the maritime cultural heritage of the Azores and Cape Verde archipelagos.