Center for Portuguese Studies tiles
Feature Stories 2020: Preserving Portuguese culture at UMassD
Preserving Portuguese culture at UMassD

The generosity of several donors brings the rich history of the Portuguese to life at UMass Dartmouth

The South Coast of Massachusetts is a region defined by the influence of the Portuguese culture. The textile, fishing, and whaling industries, all driven by Portuguese immigrants, were central to the history of the region’s economy. The culture remains embedded in our local landscape, where 45 percent of people who identify as being of Portuguese descent take pride in preserving their heritage.

The generosity of several donors brings the rich history of the Portuguese to life at UMass Dartmouth through the Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture, the Ferreira-Mendes Portuguese American Archives, and the Hélio and Amélia Pedroso/Luso-American Development Foundation Endowed Chair.

The Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture, was established in 1975 as a multidisciplinary international education and outreach organization dedicated to the study of the language, literature, and cultures of the Portuguese-speaking world.

“The Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture takes what the Portuguese community has achieved and celebrates it,” said Paula Celeste Gomes Noversa ’89, current director of the Center, faculty-director of the Ferreira-Mendes Portuguese-American Archives and a lecturer in the history department.

The Center connects UMass Dartmouth and other institutions involved in Portuguese studies both abroad and in the United States to create unique learning and teaching experiences. The Center also houses Tagus Press, a leader in the publication of Portuguese literature, history, and culture for an English-speaking audience.

In order to preserve the story of the Portuguese diaspora in North America, historical documents are critical. Opened in 2009, the Ferreira-Mendes Portuguese-American Archives houses the largest collection of materials documenting the experience of the Portuguese in the United States. With genealogical records, newspapers, business records, oral histories, and more, the Archives is a resource for scholars writing about the Portuguese history in America and for members of the community who wish to explore their Portuguese-American roots and history.

The Ferreira-Mendes Portuguese-American Archives represents a significant achievement in the preservation and promotion of Portuguese heritage in the United States. “It cemented the perception of the Portuguese in the U.S. as full-fledged Americans, empowering them to take an active role in the shaping of their own group identity,” said Glória de Sá, Ph.D., former faculty- director of the Ferreira-Mendes Portuguese-American Archives. “It provided a formal, institutionalized means of transmitting the group’s cultural legacy to future generations of Portuguese Americans.”

“To give is to receive,” said Otilia Ferreira, the driving force and lead supporter of the Archives. "The Ferreira-Mendes Portuguese-American Archives has made it possible to preserve the Portuguese language, culture, and experience in the US. This was my father’s greatest wish, and UMassD made this possible."

The Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture also administers the Hélio and Amélia Pedroso/Luso-American Development Foundation Endowed Chair, which funds semester-long residences at UMassD by prominent scholars of Lusophone studies across the humanities. This Endowed Chair was established in 2005 by benefactors Luis Pedroso, Maria Dulce Alves Furman, Anthony Andrade, Frank B. Sousa, Jr., Manuel Neto, and the Luso-American Development Foundation. Over the years, it has brought 15 scholars of Portuguese studies to the UMassD campus. They have to taught graduate courses, held public lectures, and hosted a series of conferences and colloquiums.

“The Hélio and Amélia Pedroso/Luso-American Development Foundation Endowed Chair is an opportunity for our students and community to learn and study with scholars from across the globe and broaden our perspectives,” Noversa said. Undergraduate students are often able to cross-register for the graduate course.

Recent chairs hailing from Portugal, Angola, Brazil, and the U.S. shared their expertise on topics ranging from literature to cultural landscapes to Portugal’s influence in Africa. This year’s search has been delayed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Next year, Noversa seeks to invite a scholar focused on social movements in Portuguese-speaking societies and create a collaboration with the political science department at UMassD.

The philanthropic support of the initiatives at UMassD make it possible for Portuguese culture to be further studied and shared with the community. “The contributions of our donors to the Center, Archives and the Endowed Chair signify the importance of preserving the Portuguese diaspora for our community,” said Noversa.

“As a UMassD graduate and a first-generation immigrant from the Azores, it is important to me that Portuguese history and culture be highlighted,” said Maria Dulce Alves Furman ’76. “The Portuguese are an integral part of our regional community and have added so much at every level to the wellbeing of the area. We all become richer by learning about and celebrating our heritage and other cultures.”