“Showing the vitality and the work of Portuguese engineers”
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“Showing the vitality and the work of Portuguese engineers” The I National Engineering Meeting and the Popularization of Technical Knowledge (Portugal, 1931). Maria Paula Diogo Centro de História e Filosofia da Ciência e da Tecnologia (CHFCT) Departamento de Ciências Sociais Aplicadas

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Maria paula diogo centro de hist ria e filosofia da ci ncia e da tecnologia chfct

“Showing the vitality and the work of Portuguese engineers”The I National Engineering Meeting and the Popularization of Technical Knowledge(Portugal, 1931)

Maria Paula Diogo

Centro de História e Filosofia da Ciência e da Tecnologia (CHFCT)

Departamento de Ciências Sociais Aplicadas

Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologia, Universidade Nova de Lisboa

[email protected]

Ana Cardoso de Matos

Centro Interdisciplinar de História, Culturas e Sociedades (CIDEHUS)

Departamento de História, Universidade de Évora

[email protected]


Showing the work of portuguese engineers the meeting and the exhibition

Showing the work of Portuguese engineers: the meeting and the exhibition

  • the engineer as an icon of the modern world, “the avant-garde and the guardian of progress and civilization”

  • a strategy to gain public recognition: a very visible event with good media coverage

  • the objectives of the meeting were presented to the engineering class:

    (i) to discuss technical topics in the context of the Portuguese modernizing agenda ;

    (ii) to show the vitality and the work of Portuguese engineers;

    (iii) to promote and publicize the cult of engineering

  • the I National Engineering Meeting: 7 to the 12 June 1931


Showing the work of portuguese engineers the meeting

Showing the work of Portuguese engineers: the meeting

  • participants: 357 engineers (all male) plus technicians and technologically minded persons, industrial firms, representatives of the government and of the main industrial and business companies (railways, electricity, gas and concrete)

  • the meeting:

    (i) papers (“theses”) that discussed technical questions strongly entangled in national economic issues), and papers, which were, in fact, descriptive memoirs on public works in the mainland and in the colonies

    (ii) five classes, which mirrored the main areas of engineering: Public Works, Geology and Mining, Industrial Chemistry and Metallurgy, Mechanics and Electricity.


Showing the work of portuguese engineers the exhibition

Showing the work of Portuguese engineers: the exhibition

  • the exhibition: the true public event of the meeting

  • Cotinelli Telmo, a renowned Portuguese architect and film director, authored the poster of the exhibition and was also in charge of the spatial arrangement of the stands and of the overall decoration of the main room.

  • the exhibition was opened to the general public at the Palace of Fine Arts, between 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. On the 10 June, the national holyday in honour of the poet Luís de Camões, the exhibition was visited by the President of the Republic, Field Marshal Carmona, who “inspected carefully all the stands“

  • upon entering the Palace of Fine Arts what did the visitor see? The large main room was the core of the exhibition, featuring 70 stands, 48 bordering the walls of the room and 22 in the centre. In the hall 13 other stands complemented the exhibition. Among the exhibitors one could find governmental departments, business and industrial companies, technical schools, and a quite significant number of engineers who presented their own work

  • the stands: it is quite clear that the lion’s share is for public works (sanitation, harbours, bridges, buildings) with 32 stands (≈40%); if we add the transportation networks stands (8, ≈10%), closely related to public works, we get a total of 40 stands (≈48%); industrial exhibitors hold 17 stands (≈20%), cartographic services (maps, aerial photographs) 8 (≈10%), electrical projects (including hydraulic projects) 5 (≈6%) and technical education 4 (≈5%); the remaining 9 stands (≈11%) were very heterogeneous


Showing the work of portuguese engineers the exhibition1

Showing the work of Portuguese engineers: the exhibition

Showing the work of Portuguese engineers: the meeting

  • the visits to on-going public works and to some of the most important industrial facilities near Lisbon


Showing the work of portuguese engineers the exhibition2

Showing the work of Portuguese engineers: the exhibition

(I) Public Works

(II) Industry

(III) Others

(IV) Transportation systems

(V) Cartography

(VI) Electricity

(VII) Teaching

(I) (II) (III) (IV) (V) (VI) (VII)


Seeing the work of portuguese engineers the meeting and the exhibition in the newspapers

Seeing the work of Portuguese engineers: the meeting and the exhibition in the newspapers

  • Newspapers as a tool for publicizing the National Engineering Meeting and the Engineering Exhibition

  • The newspapers:O Século, Diário de Notícias, Diário da Manhã, OComércio do Porto and Diário de Coimbra

  • The O Século and the Diário de Notícias are national newspapers, operating in the all country and targeting a very heterogeneous audience. The Diário da Manhã, the OComércio do Porto and the Diário de Coimbra are regional newspapers, mostly read in Lisbon, Oporto and Coimbra, respectively. They emphasize the coverage of local news and events and their target is a much more restricted audience.

  • All of the five newspapers have a general political posture in favour of the government, but only the Diário da Manhã has an active attitude, supporting the dictatorship propaganda and praising the Estado Novo and its leader, Oliveira Salazar

  • The amount and detail of the news on the Engineering Meeting and Exhibition is quite impressive. In all the newspapers the news on these events are always wrapped up in a hymn of praise: the engineers are the “working class”the “representatives of Progress”the “craftsmen of the (...) national rebirth”and the papers presented at the meeting are “valuable and powerful contributions to Portugal”


Seeing the work of portuguese engineers the meeting and the exhibition in the newspapers1

Seeing the work of Portuguese engineers: the meeting and the exhibition in the newspapers

The Diário de Notícias

  • The news about the Engineering Meeting in the Diário de Notícias are always in the front page, under strong headlines; most of them continue on page 2 and include one or two photographs. Apart from a few comments in a laudatory style, the articles are long and mostly descriptive.

  • Engineers are largely praised as “leaders of the national effort to achieve modernity” and “the strongest pillar of the national rebirth”and the meeting itself, together with the “exhibition are considered as an important stimulus to awake the national conscience”.

  • News on the meeting are reported from the 7 to the 12 June: an abstract of the papers presented during the sessions and of the evening lectures and a description of the visits and of the social programme

  • On the 8 June most of the article is dedicated to the Engineering Exhibition, referred as “undoubtedly one of the significant events within the meeting activities”. Although it was clear that the exhibition was only a sample of the work of Portuguese engineers, it was, nevertheless, an opportunity to “show it to the general public”. Some of the most attractive stands are described, in particular the one of the Portuguese Railway Company, that displayed a very popular mock-up train.

  • On the 12 June, the Diário de Notícias gives an overall picture of the meeting, considered as “a technical meeting of high standards”and concludes

    The I National Engineering Meeting allowed Portuguese engineers, one of the most important professional classes, to discuss and present valuable ideas and remarkable solutions to the most important issues concerning not only national engineering but above all the Portuguese urge for development”..


Seeing the work of portuguese engineers the meeting and the exhibition in the newspapers2

Seeing the work of Portuguese engineers: the meeting and the exhibition in the newspapers

The O Século

  • The I National Engineering Meeting is also front page news in the O Século. The articles are quite long and they usually occupy three columns in the first page, two or three columns on the second page and, some times, a smaller reference on page 5, under the headline “Últimas” (“Last Minutes News”). They usually include one or two photographs.

  • News on the meeting are reported from the 7 to the 12 June: abstract of the papers presented during the sessions and of the evening lectures and a description of the visits and of the social programme

  • On the 8 June the opening of the Engineering Exhibition, “an event of the uppermost importance”, is thoroughly described: first a colourful overview of the last minute preparations, then a summary of all the speeches, a list of the stands, with a special mention to the “mock-up train which caused a roar of applause”. According to the newspaper “thousands visited the exhibition during the afternoon”


Seeing the work of portuguese engineers the meeting and the exhibition in the newspapers3

Seeing the work of Portuguese engineers: the meeting and the exhibition in the newspapers

The Diário da Manhã

  • The Diário da Manhã published its news about the I National Engineering Meeting on pages eleven and fifteen. Nevertheless the newspaper brought to its readers an extensive coverage of the meeting. Being a much more politically oriented newspaper, the contents of the coverage are moulded to serve the regime’s propaganda, namely the idea of the national rebirth and national pride. They usually include one or two photographs.

  • News on the meeting are reported from the 8 to the 12 June: abstract of the papers presented during the sessions and of the evening lectures and a description of the visits and of the social programme.

  • On the 8 June the Engineering Exhibition is the highlight of the day. The article begins by pointing out that the Ministry of Trade visited the exhibition in the afternoon “paying full attention to the details of each stand”and proceeds with an overview of the exhibitors present in this “curious exhibition”.The mock-up train at the stand of the Portuguese Railway Company is highly praised,as well as a variety of engineering instruments and works “deeply interesting to the non-specialist”.

  • Although it may seems paradoxical it is the Diário da Manhã that pays more attention to the social life of the meeting, describing it in a quite vivid way.


Seeing the work of portuguese engineers the meeting and the exhibition in the newspapers4

Seeing the work of Portuguese engineers: the meeting and the exhibition in the newspapers

The Comércio do Porto

  • There is a very clear difference concerning both the length and the frequency of the news on the I National Engineering Meeting. This is perfectly natural as the event was held in Lisbon and the 300 km that separate the two cities were enough to fade away the details of the event. The news appear on page 5 and 7, within the section ““Diário de Lisboa em O Comércio do Porto” (Lisbon News in the Comércio do Porto), and they are easily identified by headlines. They usually occupy 3 out of 8 columns of each page and they are organized into subtitles which are mostly economically minded: for instance in the Diário de Notícias or in the O Século, the papers presented at the Electricity section are published under the subtitle “Discussion papers at the Electricity Section” while in the O Comércio do Porto the subtitle reads “Electrification and agriculture”.

  • News on the meeting are reported on the 9, 11 and 12 June: short overall résumé of the papers presented; special attention is given to the visits, namely to those that interested the “engineers from out of Lisbon”;

  • On the 9 June the newspaper informs its readers that the I National Engineering Meeting was being held in Lisbon and transcribes the article published on the O Século the day before concerning the opening of the Engineering Exhibition.

  • The national profile of the meeting is emphasized: “both the engineers from the north and the south of Portugal toasted the success of the event”


Seeing the work of portuguese engineers the meeting and the exhibition in the newspapers5

Seeing the work of Portuguese engineers: the meeting and the exhibition in the newspapers

The Diário de Coimbra

  • Although it was a “regional newspaper (...) a defender of the interests of the people of the Beiras”, the Diário de Coimbra pays special attention to the National Engineering Meeting. Everyday under the headline “De Lisboa” (”From Lisbon”), on page 4, the newspaper reports its readers on the meeting.

  • News on the meeting are reported from the 8 to the 12 June: the details of the meeting are not described, as the reporter prefers to stress the importance of the event and of the role played by engineers in “enhancing the greatness of our Nation” considering them as the main pillars of the nation “and a professional class worthy of the widest prestige and reputation”. On the 11 and 12 June the newspaper focuses on the “high scientific and technical level of the papers presented at the meeting”.


To show to be seen and to conquer the popularization agenda of the portuguese engineering

To show, to be seen and to conquer: the popularization agenda of the Portuguese engineering

  • The I National Engineering Meeting has clearly a popularization agenda: Portuguese engineers want to “show their work to the general public”.

  • This popularization agenda is double folded:

    • on the one hand the exhibition displays a large number of engineering works and engineering instruments, dazzling the audience with the power of techniques;

    • on the other hand the papers and lectures presented at the conference, the visits to industrial facilities and public works and the official speeches, all of them extensively reported at both national and regional newspapers, asserted Portuguese engineers as key players in the progress and wealth of the country.

  • Although the newspapers we examined differ in the way they portray the event, it would be quite difficult for any reader to ignore the engineering meeting and exhibition and to escape the vision of a mighty technological world. The “Gee-whiz effect” driven by the exhibition was enhanced both by the amount of technical details presented on the news (for instance the description of the contents of the papers and of the exhibitors) and by the way they were wrapped up in a hymn of praise to engineering.

  • On the other hand the man in the street could also share a more humanised version of the engineering meeting: the presence of elegant and cheerful ladies, a tea or a dive at the swimming-pool at Estoril, some beers and sandwiches at the Alfeite, the rhymes at the closing banquet by the “Camões of Engineering”, helped to establish a bond of sympathy between the general public and the engineers.

  • Newspapers were crucial to the success of the popularization agenda of the I National Engineering Meeting. The coverage made by the media, both in terms of quantity and quality of the news was a decisive tool in the strategy of promoting and publicizing engineering and engineers. At the end of the meeting, Portuguese engineers had good reasons to be pleased: they had successfully shown their work and their message of faith and belief in technology had been acknowledged by the public: Portugal was now ready to praise a technical messiah.


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