Colonial Populations: a repository for demography and statistics of the Portuguese Empire (1750-1890)



This project aims to develop a portal that will organize, divulge and test new forms of processing early demographic statistics in the Lusophone world between 1750 and 1890.

Our objective is to create a digital repository of maps and resources pertaining to the population of the Empire, produced as a result of directives from the Portuguese Crown, and to develop a statistical database founded on a case study of Angola.

This data has rarely been used in academic studies, or by public institutions connected to development and innovation. Processing this information and making it available will help redeem the memory of various Portuguese language countries and consolidate the knowledge of their people. It will also help promote new projects and foment the production of knowledge in several scientific areas, as well as open the way for the creation of long time series.

The documental corpus comprises around 1700 charts, mostly unpublished, and will put forward the first global trends for the study of populations in Africa, India and Brazil, which preceded British and French colonialism. 

In the Portuguese case, a substantial corpus of overseas population statistics recorded since the mid-18th century has been forgotten by historians, demographers and social scientists. However, population censuses had been introduced in the main urban centers along the coast at the end of the 17th century, both in the form of baptism, marriage and funeral rolls made by the local ecclesiastic authorities, and by lists of soldiers and men of recruitment age. Later on, census rolls for fiscal and customs purposes were also taken. All these surveys were geographically limited, produced at very irregular intervals, and did not follow a uniform pattern. 

The major change occurred in the second half of the 18th century during the consulate of  Marquês de Pombal. Counting populations became an essential process in territorial management, and a bureaucratic, political and fiscal instrument. It was part of a new political paradigm and strategy to ensure (Portuguese) sovereignty. Within the framework of Political Arithmetic and Mercantilism, counting and evaluating population was of critical importance; it was the mainstay of territorial occupation, population management, fiscal control, military conscription and strategic use of the workforce.



The project will develop a free access digital platform where mostly unpublished statistical information about the colonial populations of the Portuguese Empire (1750-1890) will be organized and made available, allowing for future updates and extensions of this historical period.

Around 1700 digital objects (population charts and ennumerations) which are presently in the Arquivo Histórico Ultramarino (Overseas Historical Archives) will be reproduced and organized. This information will serve to develop the data base for “Counting Colonial Populations, 1776-1875”, allow for the association of images of the original documents, and develop more advanced research models in terms of chronology, toponymy, social, ethnic and religious groups, and age structures of the population.

Another case study will be done for Angola (1797-1834) founded on a consistent series of population maps, which will help evaluate future forms of systematic replication of these methods in regard to the former territories of the Empire. At the same time it will open up discussion of ways to index and classify the historical documents. The collection, processing and organization of this vast collection of data will lead to an easily accessible digital repository, which will be available for sharing with institutions, researchers and the community.

Studies will be broader, and more specific estimates will be made about urban and rural areas, the weight and distribution of slaves, and social, religious and ethnic classification. By working on a project based on imperial dimension, but divided throughout its various possessions, we will also be responsible for future research and data centered on both the comparison of European empires, and the comparison of the different territories of the Portuguese Empire.


Start: 2015

Duration: 12 months

Principal Investigator: Paulo Teodoro de Matos (CHAM)




- Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian

Main Research Unit

- Centro de História d'Aquém e d'Além-Mar / Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas/Universidade Nova de Lisboa | Universidade dos Açores


- Arquivo Histórico Ultramarino / Instituto de Investigação Científica Tropical




Paulo Teodoro de Matos   .    Coordenator

Ana Canas (IICT)
Ana Cristina Nogueira da Silva (FD / NOVA)
Jan Kok (Consultant) (IISH)
Jan Lucassen (IISH)
Paulo Silveira e Sousa