DECEMBER 2021 - JUNE 2022

We invited Professor Rui Sousa to tell us about his project ‘Mafra and the Lines of Torres Vedras’.

‘Mafra e as Linhas de Torres’ (‘Mafra and the Lines of Torres Vedras’) is a project hosted by the José Saramago Secondary School that begun development in 2007, as a result of my hobby of collecting Napoleonic historical figures and the interest of the then President of the Board of Directors, Margarida Branco, to partake with the school in the commemorations of the 200th anniversary of the French Invasions. For me it was combining business with pleasure.

The Action Man-like figures that we present are representative of the armies of the Peninsular War. Being articulated, they make it possible to compose illustrative pictures of the day-to-day life of an allied military camp, in an outdoor setting in the school space. It is important to mention that the collection, namely Portuguese uniforms, carts, carts, and cannons, among many other pieces, results from the purchase of commercial figures and pieces and the manual work of students, teachers and artisans.

  Together with the history teacher Maria José Madaíl, who unfortunately has since passed away, the project was presented to the school with well-defined objectives:

  Strengthen the School/Community link;

  Encourage the civic and political participation of young people and make them aware of the national and regional historical heritage;

  Provide activities that develop cultural awareness;

  Promote the comprehensive training of students;

  Promote interdisciplinarity;

  Integrate the school community in initiatives promoted within the scope of the French Invasions;

  Make the project's collection available for exhibitions at cultural, school or military institutions that request it.

We focused on the dissemination, promotion and development of an innovative and attractive vision of the French Invasions, using figures with which we tried to respect the historical rigour of the daily lives of men and women, military and civilian, involved in the construction and defence of the lines, as well as the impressions the interveners left in their diaries, letters and memoirs. At the same time, by contextualising Mafra in the defence of the national territory during the period in question, we promoted among students the knowledge of History, Ethnography, military architecture, uniformology, and the art of war of the period, while making them aware also of the need to protect their cultural, historical, and architectural heritage.

In 2008, a Collaboration Protocol was signed for the commemorations of the bicentennial of the Peninsular War which involved, in addition to the Municipality of Mafra, the EPI, the CMEFD, the Centro de Tropas Comandos, the National Palace of Mafra and the Clube Militar dos oficiais de Mafra. However, during these 14 years of the project, many exhibitions and lectures have been held throughout the country, inspired by the theme ‘Daily life during the French Invasions’, requests that so often imply giving up time for rest and many weekends.

In order to contextualise how people lived during the Invasions, it was necessary to investigate who were the soldiers who formed the allied army and how they moved and supplied the armies in the field. In the British army there were two options for enlisting in 1808 - seven years or, for some extra prepayment, a lifetime. The chance of having a job and booze rations were enough incentive to sign for a lifetime. French soldiers, on the other hand, were forced to enlist.

Napoleon never understood the revolt of the ‘liberated’ countries because he ‘lived off the land’, leaving his armies responsible for feeding themselves by their own means. In Portugal, the forced and violent requisition of food quickly became widespread, and all French soldiers began widespread pillage. I should also point out that Portugal never matched the rich fertile lands of central Europe that supported Napoleon's first victorious campaigns. Portugal could barely support its own population of around three million souls.

On the other hand, Wellington needed the country's support and viewed looting and robbery as crimes punishable by the death penalty. Any soldier under his command knew he had to pay for all the goods or services he needed. From this forced interaction, there were some expressions in the Portuguese language in which the new generations are left ‘watching ships go by’ [an expression arising from the image of the French observing, powerless, the ships carrying the Portuguese royal family to Brazil] and everything ends up ‘going to the one-handed’ [i.e. to the brutal, one-handed French general Louis Henri Loison].

The investigation about the demographic and occupational component of the Portuguese population in the XVIII century turned out to be an amusing lecture about the different trades/professions of the past that were lost in time. In fact, who knows what a surrador, a pentieiro or a fressureira did? Thanks to the work of the philologist and pedagogue Adolfo Coelho in the field of ethnography and popular professions in Portugal, and with the help of a good dictionary, we can relive the past. A surrador is someone who beats skins or leather, a pentieiro is someone who makes or sells combs and a fressureira is someone who sells fressura, in other words, the edible viscera of the cattle.

This project introduced me to a lot of content from other subject areas that an English teacher would not normally have the motivation to explore. From the parable and the friction of cannon fire in Physics, to gunpowder in the Chemistry class, going through the many colloquial expressions in Portuguese ‘for an Englishman to see’ [note: some useless task, done with the only purpose of deceiving an Englishman], visiting Mathematics and statistical analysis of the 1801 census or the innovation of the outpatient service in Biology, everything cuts across curriculum areas.

Being a teacher implies updating, innovating, developing, so that we can stimulate processes in our students that facilitate personal development and autonomous learning. However, the constant pressure to comply with long programs has always inhibited many teachers from investing in the diversity of learning processes. On the other hand, bureaucratic constraints, lack of time and the age of teachers do not facilitate the creative process and the almost non-existent training of new teachers does not bode well.