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As Lições de Jill Dias

Maria Cardeira da Silva
Clara Saraiva


Press, Photography and People. Learning from Jill R. Dias

Jeanne Marie Penvenne

Texte intégral

Remembering Jill & Alberto Dias

  • 1 Vicks Vaporub is the trade name of a menthol smelling American salve that makes you think you feel (...)

1Memorial meditations should focus on the person we miss and mourn, but inevitably they are as much about us as they are about them. I knew only a tiny part of Jill Dias’s life and labors, and can only share with you what continues to live with me. I clearly remember the day I first saw Jill. It was November of 1976 at the Arquivo Histórico Ultramarino. I cringe to recall that I had a nasty cold, but was so determined to take advantage of every minute the Arquivo was open, I refused to stay in bed where I belonged. Instead I sat sneezing, coughing, and producing my very own viral-sphere between a big box of tissues and a small jar of Vicks Vaporub.1 I was actually trying to write up my notes without taking off my woolen mittens. Jill, being Jill, somehow got over her first impression of me!

  • 2 The 1976 cohort included Patrick Harries, Norman R. Bennett, David Tengwall and eventually Barry Ne (...)

2In my mind’s eye, I can still see Jill entering the reading room that afternoon: radiant English complexion, confidence tempered by modesty, blue eyes sparkling with fun, mischief, intelligence and compassion. Unlike the rest of us in the room that day, Jill actually seemed to know what she was doing and how to approach the staff so they did not treat her like a cockroach. She not only knew what she was doing, she generously helped the cohort of us in the reading room that day figure out what we were doing.2 She did that for generations of historians, with the same signal generosity and grace that were the hallmarks of her life.

3Jill’s life was deeply entwined with the life of her partner Alberto Dias. They met when both were university students in England. Jill studied history, Alberto chemistry. Jill followed Alberto back to Portugal and then to Angola and back again to Portugal. Each had a serious work life after which they returned to the sanctuary of their beautiful and comfortable home and garden. They famously delighted in one another; playing off each other’s wit and humor with palpable intensity. I knew them for thirty-two years and, the glow between them never diminished. Such love stories are as powerful as they are rare.

4Many of us here shared friendships with Jill and Alberto. Our gatherings included good food washed down with good wine and animated laughter. The below photo, taken in the summer of 1985 at the Feira Popular de Lisboa, captured that. We all had enjoyed a fine dinner at Alberto’s favorite spot, when our children decided they wanted to go on the Ferris wheel. The very thought of a Ferris wheel makes me ill, but Jill and Alberto hopped right on with the children, while Norman and I watched from a safe distance. Indeed, whether our sons were nurslings, toddlers, shy teens or punk rockers, Jill and Alberto always took them in hand and showed them a fine time. In the photo Jill’s hand rests lightly on Alberto’s shoulder. No one could imagine them apart.

5I shared three decades of correspondence with Jill in the era when people wrote letters and sent them by post. I treasure the hand written hard copy. Jill had lovely handwriting. It was a marvelous balance between clear letters and an easy swing of movement, suggesting confidence. When I read through our letters before I sat down to write this, I smiled as I was reminded, that we invariably opened our letters to one another by apologizing for the delay in replying. In closing, she always asked about Norman and I always asked about Alberto. Her last letter confirmed what, by then, we all knew. With Alberto’s death Jill could only confront her grief, with the hope that the pain might diminish over time. Indeed, Jill’s spirit was always indomitably optimistic. As always, Landeg White’s poem captured the moment perfectly: “Jill who always got the balance right, ‘til bereavement smashed the scales.” If I believed in an afterlife I would rejoice at the thought of their reunion. Instead I like to think that Jill’s spirit simply followed Alberto’s spirit, and that was somehow appropriate. In a brief moment Portugal lost two amazing scholars and we all lost two beloved friends, colleagues, mentors and models.

Learning from Jill Dias: People, Press and Photographs

  • 3 Revista Internacional de Estudos Africanos,[RIEA] Directora, Jill R. Dias (Lisbon, Santelmo) Vols. (...)

6Jill’s life of labor was also powerful and rare. She was on one hand so modest, shy and private, but also so impressive, articulate and determined. With that combination, Jill made a profound impact on African and Portuguese colonial scholarship as a researcher, writer, editor, administrator, mentor and teacher. Her accomplishments are many more than I will recount here. She founded and served for a generation as the editor of Revista International de Estudos Africanos (1984-1999).3 From its inception it was a truly scholarly and interdisciplinary publication that carried Jill’s attention to detail. Journal editing can eat one alive, but again, Jill managed the balance for a generation of issues. I still return to articles and appreciate the range and quality.

  • 4 Jill R. Dias, Valentim Alexandre and A. H. de Oliveira Marques, O Império Africano (Lisbon, Editori (...)

7In cooperation with the Comissão Nacional para as Comemorações dos Descobrimentos Portugueses, Jill wrestled her inspired ideas about art and material culture into magnificent and scholarly publications: the astonishing exhibit and catalog published as África nas Vesperas do Mundo Moderno (1992), and later, with Valentim Alexandre, O Império Africano (1999) in the New History of Portuguese Expansion series.4 Anyone who has taken on a national project with implications for national and international identities and relationships knows this is tricky territory. Again Jill’s signature combination of quiet modesty and firm determination worked to her advantage.

  • 5 Jill R. Dias, “Uma questão de identidade: Respostas intelectuais ás transformações económicas no se (...)

8If these were the high profile components of Jill’s scholarly production, the rest was no less impressive. How many of us return time and again to her articles on famine, disease, trade and the shifting fortunes of mestiço traders in Angola, and to her many essays on the 19th and early 20th century elites of Luanda and Lisbon. Those essays are every bit as valuable today as when they were published–that is the definition of a classic.5

  • 6 Correspondence, Kent Rasmussen to Jeanne Marie Penvenne, 9 February 1990 “Jill Dias’s Documents and (...)

9Jill’s indefatigable efforts sorting out archival collections of African photographs, postal cards, varied colonial newspapers, their metropolitan cousins, and all kinds of ephemera made a huge contribution. She diligently and deftly identified a vast array of personalities, newspapers and political associations that emerged and then disappeared in the first three decades of the twentieth century in Lisbon and colonial capitals. She made an important contribution to the Marcus Garvey Project, capturing and annotating the Lusophone African commentary on Garvey’s global movement. Indeed, as Marcus Garvey / United Negro Improvement Association editor Kent Rasmussen commented, Jill’s work was actually “much more detailed and thorough than what the Garvey volumes require.” They were too precious for him to delete, so happily they remained in the collection.6 Jill’s contribution to the Garvey Papers Project brought the often-eclipsed Portuguese African players into the global arena with other Africans. That work was often painstaking, but she not only got the details right, she contributed her signature measured and astute analysis.

10I cringe (again!) when I think of the times when Jill taught me and I let her down. On 8 June 1980, I received about 13 pages of bibliographic notes on African newspapers held by the Biblioteca Nacional de Lisboa (from Acção Nacional to Mensagem, Beira), all written in Jill’s wonderful hand. For a while I had a contract to collate a bibliography of Portuguese African sources. Jill volunteered to give me a hand with the newspapers. For all the usual reason (our children were born 1979 and 1981 and my Ph. D dissertation was submitted 1982), the bibliographic project always migrated to the bottom of the “to do” list. Before I completed the work, the press cancelled the contract and series. At my behest Jill had put in a good day’s work for naught. That always seemed more important to me than the months I had put in for naught.

11No doubt, we all picked up on different aspects of Jill’s work. I do not pretend to inventory or assess her complete scholarly production, but rather to reflect on the special quality of the places where our work intersected. The Angola scholars among us surely knew Jill’s work best; my focus is Mozambique. Jill’s efforts to decode the politics and relationships among the elite networks of Lusophone Africa through the early 20th century press were particularly important.

12Jill was just masterful with the colonial era press. She helped me see how to enhance my quest for Mozambicans with names and identities instead of numbers and categories. Her work also provided an exemplary caution and innovative approach to what were clearly partisan sources. While still managing to make her prose flow easily, Jill textured her assessment of inter-personal contestation among the mestiço population with a very careful reading of the sources. The global Pan Africanist movement configured itself a bit differently in many parts of the colonial world, and their press was often flamboyant and contentious. Sorting out solid information from such material is challenging. Whenever possible Jill located writers in the mercurial political landscape and followed their shifting allegiances.

  • 7 V.S. Naipaul, 1979, A Bend in the River: “…I knew that newspapers in small colonial places told a s (...)

13Part of my admiration for Jill’s accomplishments with Portugal’s colonial press arises from the fact that, at this time, scholars read the colonial newspapers in paper copy, took notes in pen on paper–perhaps creating 3 x 5 or 5 x 8 card files of notes. Without the benefit of a search function, Jill painstakingly collated information on people, associations and relationships from bits and pieces in the social news or editorials. V. S. Naipaul makes the point that small town (colonial) newspapers print a special kind of news and commentary. Much of what most people cared about circulated as rumor and gossip in the long lines around municipal water fountains and bakeries. The essence of street corner “buzz” conveyed the tenor of popular assessments that, even without the censor’s pen, probably would not have appeared in print.7

14I first met the people at the heart of my early work in archival photographs held at the Arquivo Histórico Ultramarino. The photographs did not name those people, or particularly accord them humanity, let alone historical agency. They were pretos (blacks) and as such they were enumerated, not named. But with a magnifying glass I could see their faces. I always learn a lot from people’s faces. The Mozambican press eventually brought me closer to the people at the heart of my work, and oral histories subsequently opened my lens much wider, adding an essential interrogation of the view produced by the elite in the press. Reading O Africano and O Brado Africano, day by day, straight through from 1908–1974, I eventually found photographs of many of the people who emerged with personalities and families. The social news, obituaries and major meetings eventually provided the possibility of developing networks and a lens into urban African society.

15Jill and I both realized that many of the schisms within political and social groups had race, class and religious implications, but often were also intensely personal. Again, Jill was very adept at teasing out the details. As far as I know, her work on the Lisbon Lusophone African networks, came closest to detailing what did and actually did not happen at the Pan African Congresses of the early 1920s. Mozambicans were lesser players in the metropolitan dramas of that era, but it was very helpful to see how they fitted in amongst the people of São Tomé, Cape Verde and Angola.

16Returning to her work on the elites of Luanda and Lisbon, I am always struck by how much work it took, reading through press, archives, the Boletim Official and ephemera to gather the material necessary to underpin her effortless narrative. My next project, assuming my present project doesn’t turn into an “in perpetuity” project, returns to the families of Lourenço Marques. If my efforts to capture the dynamism and creativity of those networks is half as successful as Jill’s I shall be well pleased.

17Finally, regarding photographs, Jill drew our attention to a whole range of neglected sources, and began to suggest how one might use them. Again, Mozambique fell outside many of these collections, but I found Jill’s observations useful when I encountered a photo collection. One set of photographs from the turn of the century Lourenço Marques, held by Harvard College Library, captured ordinary scenes, but also posed Africans in hideous and demeaning modes. Jill was able to demonstrate how attitudes regarding Africans both hardened and shifted into racial stereotypes in specific historical periods. In this case, a fairly ordinary photograph of a Catembe area family, with the men dressed in shirts and trousers, and the women dressed in blouses and capulanas (photo 1), was juxtaposed with a photograph of a family sitting at a table with men dressed in skins and everyone at the table holding a glass of what looks like draft beer, including the women and a young child (photo 2). The photo was clearly meant to mock and demean. The worst of the photos posed a child with a very swollen belly (photo 3), peering through a hole cut into the newspaper called O Futuro–reading glasses perched on his nose. Jill’s work with postal cards and photographs contributed to the frameworks necessary to approach such work.

  • 8 Sebastião Langa; Retratos de uma Vida (Maputo: Arquivo Histórico de Moçambique, 2001) [Research and (...)
  • 9 Collections by João Loureiro, Carlos Alberto Vieira, José dos Santos Rufino and Curado da Gama incl (...)
  • 10 Jill R. Dias, “Photographic Sources for the History of Portuguese-Speaking Africa, 1870–1914,” Hist (...)

18I was always struck by the frozen and antiseptic quality of much colonial era photography. With the notable exceptions of photos by Ricardo Rangel and Sebastião Langa, Africans were either nowhere to be seen, or they were backdrop.8 The early photos centered buildings and empty streets, although the later ones featured whites at play. In stunning contrast, independence era collections portrayed swirls of people to the point of obscuring buildings and roads. The contrast was simply astonishing. We now have scores of photographic collections on Angola and Mozambique–both online and in print, and YouTube has a growing collection of colonial era postings.9 I hope many scholars will be inspired by Jill’s initiatives, and delve into these important sources of the African past.10

19She taught us that quality work will last forever, that preliminary studies–when you don’t quite know where they will go–can be pioneering, and that modest assessments can be the most compelling. We lost Jill Dias all too soon, but then she lost Alberto all too soon. May we call up the joy Jill and Alberto always found in one another, and the integrity and excitement Jill’s intellect always inspired so that we can continue our work with lighter hearts.


1 Vicks Vaporub is the trade name of a menthol smelling American salve that makes you think you feel better when you obviously do not.

2 The 1976 cohort included Patrick Harries, Norman R. Bennett, David Tengwall and eventually Barry Neil Tomlinson.

3 Revista Internacional de Estudos Africanos,[RIEA] Directora, Jill R. Dias (Lisbon, Santelmo) Vols. 1-22, 1984-1999.

4 Jill R. Dias, Valentim Alexandre and A. H. de Oliveira Marques, O Império Africano (Lisbon, Editorial Estampa, 1998;) Africa: nas vésperas do mundo moderno [texto de Jill R. Dias, tradução de José Luis Luna] (Lisbon, Comissão Nacional para as Comemorações dos Descobrimentos Portugueses, 1992.)

5 Jill R. Dias, “Uma questão de identidade: Respostas intelectuais ás transformações económicas no seio da elite crioula de Angola portuguesa entre 1870 e 1930,” RIEA, Vol. 1 (Janeiro–Junho, 1984): 61-94; “Black Chiefs, White Traders and Colonial Policy near the Kwanza: Kabuku Kambilo and the Portuguese, 1873-1896, “The Journal of African History, Vol. 17, No. 2 (1976): 245-265; “Famine and Disease in the History of Angola c. 1830-1930,” The Journal of African History, Vol. 22, 3 (1981): 349-378; “Photographic Sources for the History of Portuguese-Speaking Africa, 1870–1914,” History in Africa, Vol. 18 (1991): 67-82; “Portuguese African Associations in Lisbon and International PanAfricanism, 1912-1933,” paper presented at the International Conference Group on Portugal Meeting (21-24 September 1989): 1-33; “A Sociedade colonial de Angola e o Liberalismo Português (c. 1820–1850) in Centro de Estudos de História Contemporânea Portuguesa sobre “O Liberalismo na Península Ibérica na primeira metade do século XIX” (1981): 267-286.

6 Correspondence, Kent Rasmussen to Jeanne Marie Penvenne, 9 February 1990 “Jill Dias’s Documents and Annotations.”

7 V.S. Naipaul, 1979, A Bend in the River: “…I knew that newspapers in small colonial places told a special kind of truth. They didn’t lie, but they were formal. They handled big people–businessmen, high officials, members of our legislative and executive councils–with respect. They left out a lot of important things 00 often essential things00 that local people would know and gossip about.” (New York: Knopf. Kindle e-book 3171-80-4874).

8 Sebastião Langa; Retratos de uma Vida (Maputo: Arquivo Histórico de Moçambique, 2001) [Research and selection of photos by António Sopa, Maria das Neves, Maria Deolinda Chamango]; Ricardo Rangel, Pão Nossa de Cada Noite (Maputo: Marimbique, 2005).

9 Collections by João Loureiro, Carlos Alberto Vieira, José dos Santos Rufino and Curado da Gama include the iconic colonial era photographs. Photographic collections include, António Sérgio Azenha, Africa Desaparecida [fotografia de Fernando Laidley] 2d ed. (Lisbon: Quetzal Editores, 2001); Eurico Carlos Esteves Lage Cardoso and Manuel Pedro Dias, Moçambique; Terra de Magia; desde a chegada dos Portugueses á Independência (Lisbon: Edição dos Autores, 2007); Carlos Alberto Vieira da Silva, ed., The City of Lourenço Marques Guide Authorized by the Municipality (Lourenço Marques: Proprietor and Publisher Carlos Alberto Vieira da Silva, 1956); Curado da Gama, Era uma vez… Moçambique (Lisbon: Quimera, 2004); Curado da Gama, Moçambique de Outros Tempos (Lisbon: Quimera, 2006); João Loureiro, Memórias de Lourenço Marques: Uma Visão do Passado da Cidade de Maputo (Lisbon: Maisimagem-Communicação Global, Lda., 2003) [Colecção: Memória Portuguesa da Africa e do Oriente]; Lourenço Marques: A Corner of Continental Europe in Africa [Issued under the joint auspices of the Caminhos de Ferro de Lourenço Marques and the South African Railways and Harbours] (Johannesburg: Hortors, Ltd., 1927); João Sousa Morais, Maputo: Património da estrutura e forma urbana; Topologia do Lugar (Lisbon: Livros Horizonte, 2001); Maputo desenrascar a vida; Fotografias [Text by Nelson Saúte, chronology by António Sopa translation by Paul Fauvet] (Lousa: Tipografia Lousanense, Lda. 1997); Moçambique; Text and artistic direction by Frederic P. Marjay with a special study of the Portuguese overseas by Otto von Habsburg (Lisbon: Livraria Bertrand, 1963); Ian Michler, This is Mozambique (London: New Holland Publishers, 1999); Carlos Dominguez, Com o “mundo” na cabeça; Homenagem ás Mulheres de Moçambique [Associação do Centro Cultural de Matalana] (Figueira da Foz, Portugal: Impressora Económica, lda. 1997); Recordações de Lourenço Marques [Fotografia de Carlos Alberto Vieira, Texto Ana Paula Lemo, Coordenação Joaquim Carlos Vieira] (Lisbon: Alétheia Editores. 2005); Ricardo Rangel, Pão Nossa de Cada Noite (Maputo: Marimbique, 2005); José dos Santos Rufino, Albuns Fotográfico e Descrítivos da Colónia de Moçambique (Hamburg: Broschek & Co., 1929) YouTube, vanpendroso, “Moçambique, Lourenço Marques, 1970,”

10 Jill R. Dias, “Photographic Sources for the History of Portuguese-Speaking Africa, 1870–1914,” History in Africa, Vol. 18 (1991): 67-82; Eric Allina, “‘Fallacious Mirrors:’ Colonial Anxiety and Images of African Labor in Mozambique, ca. 1929”, History in Africa, Vol. 24 (1997): 9-52; Jeanne Marie Penvenne, “Fotografando Lourenço Marques: A Cidade e os seus Habitantes de 1960 to 1975, “in Claudia Castelo, Omar Ribeiro Thomaz e Sebastião Nascimento, Teresa Cruz e Silva, Os Outros de Colonialismo: Ensaios sobre tardo-colonialismo em Moçambique (Lisbon: Imprensa de Ciências Sociais, 2011).


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