Welcome to the website of the Research Project “Lands Over Seas: Property Rights in the Early Modern Portuguese Empire”. Since the site is mainly composed in Portuguese language, in this page we offer just a brief overview of the Project and a short sitemap intended for English readers.

Project overview

How did the Portuguese solve the problem of appropriation, (re)distribution and control over the land in their early modern empire? This is the big question the project Lands Over Seas intends to address.

Although the land and the occupancy of territories had different meanings and followed different paths across time and space, the question raised above points to a crucial issue in the history of the Portuguese empire as a whole. In the empire-making process, the rule over land and the regulation of property rights could have been at first dictated merely by pressing circumstances, like the need of attracting first settlers or the urgency of replacing legal and political institutions left vacant by the transfer of sovereignty to the Portuguese authorities. However, it quickly became a powerful tool as well as a source of conflict. Indeed, both the metropolitan government and the colonial authorities used the regulation of property rights as an instrument for political and social control, for sovereignty claiming, for borders designing, for the reward of services and loyalties, for economic governance and for fiscal exaction, among other ends. On the other hand, seen “from below”, the reception and re-appropriation of these measures by the social agents in the ground, whether they were settlers of European origin or pre-existing local communities, engendered very dynamic and complex processes, with a variety of solutions, degrees and goals of institutional reframing. The study of land, territory and property rights in colonial environments calls then for a multi-dimensional approach, where legal, economic, political, social and cultural history should converge.

Unveiling the solutions adopted to handle the land issue in the early modern Portuguese Empire, as well as discussing the rationale, the purposes, the impacts and the reception of those solutions – these are, in brief, the goals to be reached by this research project.

Research team and supporting institutions

The Project Lands Over Seas took its first steps in 2009 and started officially in February 2011, being funded by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) with the reference code PTDC/HIS-HIS/113654/2009. José Vicente Serrão is the Project Leader of a research team that includes 15 Portuguese and Brazilian researchers: Ângela Barreto Xavier, Bárbara DireitoEugénia Rodrigues, Fátima Sequeira Dias, Fernando LamasGraça DelfimJoana Medrado NascimentoMarina MachadoMárcia MottaRute GregórioRafael ChambouleyronSusana Münch Miranda, and the two research assistants, Edgar Pereira and Maria Bastião.

Additionally, the team is supported by an international and high-standard group of consultants, covering the main fields of inquiry in this project, namely: Allan Greer, António Manuel HespanhaBas van Bavel, Jorge Manuel FloresRosa CongostRui Santos, Sanjay Subrahmanyam, and Vera Ferllini.

The Project is developed within the following research centers: Centro de Estudos de História Contemporânea do ISCTE-IUL (main research unit), Centro de História de Além-Mar (CHAM/FCSH/UNL), Instituto de Ciências Sociais (ICS/UL), Instituto de Investigação Científica Tropical (IICT/MCTES), and Programa de Pós-Graduação em História da U. Federal Fluminense (PPGH/UFF).


Browsing our website you can find some of the work that is being developed by our team members, namely: the scientific meetings organized within the framework of this Project (Actividades); the Project outputs (Indicadores) divided into publications (Publicações), and public presentations (Apresentações); a range of digital resources (Recursos), comprising bibliographic databases (Bibliografia) as well as repertoires, transcriptions and scanned images of primary sources (Fontes). The page Links is a useful addition to these ones, since it provides a list of sites and web-based materials related to the Project’s main topics, including a number of digitised historical sources.

Finally, if you wish to contact us, the email addresses of the Project Leader (José Vicente Serrão) and the research centers are displayed under the label Contactos.