HL90 FT: A Luta Continua: Legacies of Portuguese Empire

The HL90 preview event is today at 2pm! We hope to see you there, but you can also read more about Lilly Havstad’s new class “A Luta Continua: Legacies of Portuguese Empire” now!

What inspired you to teach this class?

I’ll begin answering this question by sharing that my father, who passed away last winter, was a Vietnam War resistor in the San Francisco Bay area, guided by his principled nonviolence stance. In 1968 he was indicted by the federal government for refusing induction, but he won his case on a technicality and avoided going to jail. This bit of family history, which I’ve been studying recently, helped inspire this new course that situates violence and resistance in the Portuguese empire within a nonviolence framework. Ok, so now let me tell you a little more about my background and what this course is about.

I am a transnational historian and my work has focused on legacies of Portuguese colonialism in southeast Africa and the Atlantic World. For this class, I’m building on my previous research by bringing in a nonviolence framework, which helps us study and theorize violence as a product of inequality, especially racism, and resistance as a means to effect political and social change. What’s really exciting is that this is the kind of work that the growing (and very interdisciplinary!) field of nonviolence scholars is calling for right now. So, I like to think that we’re responding to this call as a class. Students will explore the role of violence and coercion in shaping the Portuguese empire across Asia, Brazil, and Africa, from the era of the transatlantic slave trade to the Carnation Revolution of 1974. But we’ll also study the ways people resisted—both in their everyday lives and through organized action—colonial and postcolonial violence that continues to shape injustice and inequality in our present world. That’s part of the legacy of empire we’ll be exploring in this class. “A Luta Continua!” means, “the struggle continues!” It was a rallying cry of the Mozambican liberation front, Frelimo, and it reverberates across the global south into the present as an expression of solidarity in struggle. Ultimately, students will come away from this class with a better understanding of the unfinished work of decolonization of Portugal and its former colonies. And it is my hope that students will be able to also apply a nonviolence framework to a wider reading of the many forms of violence that produce and sustain inequality, as well as the ways in which people are fighting for a more just and equal world.

What is a text you’re excited to share with students?

It is hard to choose but I’d have to say that I am particularly excited about reading Mozambican author Paulina Chiziane’s novel, The First Wife: A Tale of Polygamy with my students. The First Wife is set in 1990s Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, following the sixteen-year civil war that claimed more than a million lives and displaced millions more. The novel explores the generational impacts of colonial and postcolonial violence and women’s oppression and how structural violence intersects with private life. It is a sharp, funny, and at times tragic exploration of the way women navigate and resist the layered histories of patriarchy, colonial exploitation, and postcolonial violence. Students are going to learn a lot through Chizane’s novel which in of itself is a treasure. It is hard to find Portuguese-speaking African women authors whose work has been translated for English-speaking audiences. The book is a rich example of how women’s fiction writing in Mozambique (and Portuguese-speaking Africa more broadly) has done a lot to highlight gender-based violence while exposing how inequality is (re)produced in marriage and across the young nation, through stories of female friendship, sexuality, pleasure, and power.

What’s something surprising students might not know about this topic?

It might be useful to dispel one myth about nonviolence right here: one need not be a pacifist in order to participate in nonviolent actions or tactics to effect change. Nonviolence studies teaches us that there is a distinction between pacifism (which we may consider a moral or ideological position) and nonviolent action to achieve one’s political or social aims. We’ll read about and discuss this distinction as an important part of our work to situate our study of colonial violence and resistance (both armed and civil resistance) in the making and unmaking of the Portuguese empire within a nonviolence framework. There is also a distinction between principled and pragmatic nonviolence that I think students will find useful and interesting as we learn about ways colonized and enslaved peoples resisted Portugal’s tactics of coercion and violence, both in quotidian and organized acts of resistance.

Are you doing any cool assignments?

I’m looking forward to supporting student research on specific topics, people, and places from across the Portuguese-speaking world (even if we don’t touch directly on it in our syllabus!). Instead of writing a traditional academic paper, students will get to present their findings in a multimodal, digital format intended for a wider reading audience: you’ll build a website and get a taste of the Digital Humanities! For this final project, which we’ll begin working on with proposals mid-semester, students will get both peer and instructor feedback and support as they develop their projects. In addition, I’ll be encouraging students to find ways to think about the historical and present significance of their chosen research topics. I am a big proponent of thinking historically about the present and I think these research projects will be a great opportunity for students to make historical connections to the present based on their individual research interests.

Just curious for recommendations! What have you been listening to this summer?

I declared 2022 the summer of Donna Summer. And if you’re listening to Beyonce’s new album, then you should appreciate my declaration. Donna Summer was a brilliant artist and entertainer, and she’s originally from Boston! I was sad that I missed the Donna Summer dance party at Copley Square in May, but I won’t let that happen again next year. “On the Radio” is probably my favorite Donna Summer song (my 5-year old son also likes to dance to it with me!) but she has so many great hits, it’s hard to choose. Obviously, this means that “Summer Renaissance” is my favorite song on Beyonce’s new album because she samples Donna Summers’ 1977 hit, “I Feel Love”. I love that the Queen is paying homage to Donna Summer, who was the Queen of Disco!

How can students learn more?

Students can learn more by checking out the course website here! I also welcome email inquiries (send to lhavstad@fas.harvard.edu ) and I’ll be offering an info session about the course on Wednesday, 8/24 at 2pm over Zoom.

Published by Hist & Lit

Committee on Degrees in History & Literature at Harvard University

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